Environment: Environmental aid: Too much packaging waste in supermarkets

Trios of peppers in plastic, cardboard boxes for toothpaste tubes and almost no packaging with a deposit on the milk shelf - shopping in the supermarket or discounter quickly creates a lot of packaging waste at home.

Environment: Environmental aid: Too much packaging waste in supermarkets

Trios of peppers in plastic, cardboard boxes for toothpaste tubes and almost no packaging with a deposit on the milk shelf - shopping in the supermarket or discounter quickly creates a lot of packaging waste at home.

Is it because of consumer choices? No, says the German Environmental Aid - according to the lobby association, far too many goods are still being offered in packaging and disposable containers. In a "packaging check", the association gave almost all supermarkets and discounters bad ratings - only three tested organic chains got away with a good rating.

According to environmental aid, no reusable packaging was offered for milk and yoghurt products in five of the chains examined, and the rate in another shop was 97 percent. During the first check in early 2022, the DUH came to the same conclusion. The proportion of packaged fruit and vegetables has tended to decrease somewhat, but only by a few percentage points.

The criticism of Aldi Nord and Süd and Lidl was particularly harsh: At the three discounters, the DUH did not find any reusable packaging either on the milk shelf or in the range of drinks - it looked the same at the beginning of 2022. Aldi Süd announced that the use of reusable bottles in the beverage sector will be tested in the coming year.

Aldi Nord and Süd also stated that by the end of 2025, 40 percent of fruit and vegetable items should be offered unpackaged. This is currently the case for a third of the items in the product group. "As part of our packaging strategy, we are also focusing on steadily increasing the use of recycled plastic," it said.

Deposit does not equal reusable

"Our test visits show an unnecessarily large amount of disposables, too much plastic and waste. Even robust standard products such as carrots, apples or peppers are more often offered in disposable packaging than unpackaged," said DUH Federal Managing Director Barbara Metz about the results. "If we don't want to further intensify the plastic crisis, we need packaging waste to be halved by 2027 and an additional one-way tax of at least 20 cents on single-use plastic bottles, cans and beverage cartons."

As a reminder: Not all returnable bottles are to be regarded as reusable goods. For example, bottles that are crushed by the return machines and later cut up and recycled belong to the single-use category. In the case of reusable packaging, the container is usually only cleaned and then refilled.

More than 225 kilograms of packaging waste per capita and year

Packaging waste has tended to increase in Germany in recent years. According to the Federal Environment Ministry, around 18.8 million tons of packaging waste were generated in 2020 - compared to 16 million tons ten years earlier. Calculated per capita, every person in Germany uses 225.8 kilograms of packaging.

Paper, cardboard and cardboard make up more than 8.3 million tons of all packaging waste in Germany. Around 3.22 million tons of plastic waste were generated in 2020, glass waste more than three million tons. The development of aluminum from 90,600 tons in 2010 to almost 140,000 tons in 2020 is particularly striking.

Peeled asparagus, salad mix - always wrapped in plastic

"The proportion of one- and two-person households as well as senior citizens is increasing. Both result in smaller filling sizes and/or pre-portioned units being bought, which in turn has an increasing effect on packaging consumption," writes the Federal Environment Agency online about the increase in packaging waste. In addition, eating and consuming habits have changed. Fast food, to-go products and ready meals continue to be very popular.

In its report, the DUH assumes that the sustainability of the products is an important selling point for many customers. "However, in order to be able to make a decision in the sense of the environment, you need the appropriate offer in the food retail trade," it says. Although unpackaged shops are increasingly offering the option of shopping without packaging waste, especially in cities, their market share has so far been rather small.

The trade association HDE announced that the food trade is already actively committed to reducing packaging waste. "For example, all major food retailers have introduced reusable nets in the fruit and vegetable sector in order to reduce the number of very light bags. The reduction in material used in private label packaging through thinner-walled milk packaging or beverage bottles also contributes to the fact that less packaging is in circulation," said Antje Gerstein, HDE Managing Director for European Policy and Sustainability, according to the announcement. In addition, the collection system for one-way beverage packaging that is subject to a deposit is very effective.

The new packaging law has not yet brought about a turnaround

A new packaging law has been in force since January, according to which many restaurateurs have to offer reusable packaging for take-away food. But that's not going smoothly: It was not until mid-May that Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens) called for stricter controls. "The restaurateurs are asked to also fulfill their legal obligation to reuse, and municipalities and states should control much better," she told the "Bild am Sonntag" at the time.

Next construction site: food waste

The figures on packaging waste do not include the large amount of food that also ends up in the garbage can - in Germany it was around 11 million tons per year. Almost 60 percent of this waste is generated in private households - that corresponds to almost 80 kilograms per person per year.