"Recycling is One of Several Building Blocks of the Circular Economy"
Climate protection only works with a functioning circular economy, says environmental engineer Felicitas Frick, Senior Consultant in the Circular Economy and Resource Management Department at Ramboll Deutschland GmbH. She says it is important to use packaging material in a way that conserves resources and to think about reducing it.
At Ramboll, you advise and support industrial companies, for example manufacturers of branded goods and packaging. What are your clients’ concerns?
Frick: The industry clients we advise have many questions about the requirements for packaging and the obligations that manufacturers face, such as design requirements. We also support companies in their strategic planning taking into account political trends. During one project, a jewelry manufacturer was faced with the question of how recyclable the packaging for their products should be in the future. In an individual analysis, we looked at the legal and economic consequences of such a change in packaging. In addition to long-term projects, we also handle ad hoc compliance inquiries by our clients.
Given the current political pressure, is there more need for action in terms of sustainable packaging at the moment?
Yes, we see this in the current proposal for the new EU Packaging Regulation and the EU Taxonomy Regulation, which has been in force since 2022 and which is an important component of the Green Deal.
In future, there will not only be political but also financial pressure to switch to more recyclable packaging. In France, companies already pay different license fees to the producer responsibility organizations depending on the recyclability of their packaging. Such cost models are to be introduced in all EU countries.
Waste management is also one of your core topics. What role does this currently play?
The topic of a circular economy is particularly essential for packaging, as the most important functions of packaging, such as transport and product protection, hygiene, and the marketing message, actually lose their function immediately after purchase and the packaging becomes waste.
Packaging is, therefore, a good start to making your product more sustainable. It may be more challenging to implement sustainability for products such as pharmaceuticals than to consider changes on the packaging. If you are not sure how and whether you should change your packaging, it is advisable to carry out a life cycle assessment – this can also counteract claims of greenwashing. With the proposed EU directive on Green Claims, the topic will gain further momentum.
We are currently receiving many inquiries from our clients about the obligations associated with the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) throughout Europe. The producer responsibility organizations for packaging collect and recycle packaging on behalf of manufacturers. However, the exact regulations vary from country to country. Many of our customers operate internationally and want to ensure that they comply with the respective national regulations. Some manufacturers are also considering whether it is worth setting up their own take-back systems in order to secure direct access to plastic recyclates. With over 17,000 employees worldwide, we at Ramboll can quickly clarify such Europe-wide and international requests.
What do you think of the current recycling products that are on the market in all sectors?
PET is a plastic that is already very advanced in terms of recycling. The bottle-to-bottle principle in particular is a successful model. I am worried that well-functioning cycles will be interrupted if recycled material from packaging is used in other products. For example, if a sweater is made from PET fibers, it is likely that it will be disposed of and incinerated after use. The PET fibers are thus removed from the recycling cycle. I can understand that the textile industry also wants and needs to become more sustainable, but an important component of the circular economy is to always look at the system holistically. In individual cases, a life cycle assessment can also help with such decisions.
What can be done to protect the climate?
The circular economy is a key tool for climate protection and the decarbonization of our economy, as it enables a more responsible use of resources. This is also becoming increasingly important in view of resource scarcity and fragile supply chains. Recycling is a building block of the circular economy, which at best contributes to reducing emissions and closing the gap to climate neutrality. However, other circular economy strategies, such as reuse or the avoidance of materials, must also be considered. For example, in the case of packaging it can be examined whether a second outer packaging could be omitted if the inner packaging is already sufficient.
About Felicitas Frick: Felicitas Frick (29) studied environmental engineering at the RTWH in Aachen and specialized in recycling technology during her master’s degree. During her studies, she worked as a student trainee at Ingenieurgesellschaft HTP GmbH & Co. KG, where she gained technical experience in the planning of sorting systems for lightweight packaging. Based in the Frankfurt offices of Ramboll in Germany, she is responsible for complex and innovative projects in the field of Circular Economy and Resource Management.
Further information: Resource management and circularity – Ramboll group