Study: Emissions Fall, Use of Recyclates Rises
Greenhouse gas emissions from packaging can be drastically reduced with the help of improved recycling of packaging and its recycling processes, according to a new study. Industry representatives are also pushing the use of chemical recycling.
The greenhouse gas emissions associated with the volume of packaging can be reduced by 94 percent in Germany by 2045. This is the finding of a recent study conducted by GVM Gesellschaft für Verpackungsmarktforschung and ifeu-Institut für Energie- und Umweltforschung Heidelberg gGmbH on behalf of eight industry associations. According to the study, packaging consumption in Germany has already peaked in 2021 and will continue to decline. On the other hand, the use of recycled materials and recycling rates will increase.
The study examines what contribution recyclable packaging – whether made of paper, glass, metal, or plastic – can make regarding the German climate neutrality target of 2045 and forecasts the development of relevant factors such as recycling rates, recyclate use, packaging optimization, and packaging volumes.
The enormous potential for emissions savings can be attributed to a triad of improved recycling of packaging, the conversion of production and recycling processes to renewable energy sources, and declining packaging consumption in Germany, explains Kurt Schüler, Managing Partner of GVM.
“Of the savings, 39.3 percentage points are attributable to factors from the packaging market and circular economy field of action. These include, for example, lighter packaging, reusable packaging, packaging-saving consumer behavior, increasing use of recycled materials, and, last but not least, the greatly improved recycling of packaging. The remaining 54.4 percentage points come from the energy transition and process optimization fields of action. “Keywords here are, for example, decarbonization of industrial production processes, green energy sources, and energy savings in production and transport,” Schüler says. If packaging consumption (excluding wood) was still 16 million tons in 2021, it will drop to 14 million tons by 2030 and to 11.7 million tons by 2045, according to the study’s calculations. “This corresponds to a saving of 13 percent by 2030 as well as 27 percent by 2045.”
The study was commissioned by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Verpackung + Umwelt e.V. (AGVU), the Bundesverband Glasindustrie, the Deutsches Verpackungsinstitut, the Fachverband Faltschachtel Industrie, the Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen, the Industrieverband Papier- und Folienverpackungen, the PRO-S-PACK Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Serviceverpackungen and the Verband Metallverpackungen.
Chemical Recycling Opportunities
At the 20th AGVU orientation day in Berlin, industry experts also spoke about this study and discussed the possibilities for increasing the use of recyclates. Chemical recycling was also a topic of discussion. The German Chemical Industry Association (VCI) and Plastics Europe Deutschland (PED), the association of plastics producers, have presented a position paper on the measurement of recycled content in plastic products. In doing so, they aim to promote chemical recycling processes as a complement to mechanical processes.
The proposed assessment basis is called the “mass balance approach.” Using this approach, the proportions of recycled raw materials can be traceably assigned to an end product, the two associations explain. “Mass balance methods ensure transparency and efficiency in the use of secondary raw materials and are thus a basis for more recycling and more circular economy,” says Alexander Kronimus, Head of Climate Protection and Circular Economy at PED.
“Anyone who wants to achieve climate protection targets should use innovative technologies such as chemical recycling. A first important step would be to recognize the mass balance for recycling shares,” says Jörg Rothermel, VCI Division Manager for energy, climate protection, and raw materials. Mass balances are standardized (ISO 22095) and are already routinely used today – for example in FairTrade commerce for coffee and textiles or in the purchase of green electricity. The technologies grouped together under the term chemical recycling can also be used to recycle plastics that cannot be mechanically recycled, and to-date are incinerated.