"Many People Massively Underestimate The Ecological Benefits of Packaging"
5/12/2023 Insights Interview

"Many People Massively Underestimate The Ecological Benefits of Packaging"

In an interview with FACHPACK360°, Kim Cheng, managing director of the industry association Deutsches Verpackungsinstitut e.V., calls on the industry to communicate the importance of packaging more strongly than before.

Kim Cheng is managing director of the German Packaging Institute dvi. Kim Cheng is managing director of the German Packaging Institute dvi.
Most people in Germany think the environmental footprint of packaging is higher than that of the packaged product. That's what came out in the dvi's latest study. How do you explain that?

The results show not only that many people grossly overestimate the footprint of packaging, but above all that they massively underestimate the ecological benefits of packaging. After all, real ecological damage occurs primarily when the food is harmed or spoils. On average, food packaging causes only 3 percent of the climate impact, the product 97 percent.
To date, the industry has not managed to communicate the importance of packaging in such a way that consumers are aware of it. So we have a communication problem. Many people perceive packaging as superfluous. We believe the industry has a responsibility to change this false image. No one will take this task off our hands anyway.

How can such disinformation be prevented? What can the packaging industry do?

We need to educate more about the tasks and functions. We need to communicate more and better that packaging is the pioneer of the circular economy, and we need to be careful that packaging is not deprived of this message. For 20 years, the packaging industry has had experience in the circular economy. It is ambitious to create closed loops and is still a pioneer in this respect.
In order to be able to determine the ecological benefits of packaging even more precisely than before, we have commissioned a large-scale study on the "Climate protection contribution of packaging" together with seven other industry associations. The results are to be presented in mid-June. 

Are consumers also confused by the diversity of packaging materials?

That's a good question. Overall, we are seeing a race between packaging types and materials. I always have to answer the popular question about the ecologically best packaging with a "it depends," because it depends on the product, the material, the recyclability, the transport effort and other factors. Uncertainty is perhaps even too low, where certain materials are blanketly preferred and judged to be ecologically better. On the other hand, uncertainty is justified when certain packaging "camouflages" itself with the feel and look of another material. Whatever the case, even the second- or third-best packaging is still an ecological gain if it successfully protects the product.

Reusable or disposable? Which is the right way?

I believe that there is no way around reusable. According to our survey, 61 percent support the current political plans for more reusable packaging. But their approval is subject to conditions. The most important conditions include flexible return regardless of the place of purchase, price stability and trouble-free, fast return. It's also important to ask the question about rotations and whether this will make packaging more expensive. After all, any price increase is ultimately paid by the consumer. 
Ecologically, reusable is only the better choice if the effort required for transport, cleaning, disinfection and refilling is actually less than when using disposable packaging that is recycled after use. If reusable packaging is only enforced for ideological reasons, this will ultimately help neither consumers nor the environment.

What is the situation in Germany with regard to recycling?

Recycling works in Germany, and the industry has met its quotas. At the moment, by the way, everyone can thank Lidl for its recycling campaign, which can be seen everywhere. Lidl is successfully communicating that it has closed cycles. The Schwarz Group created its own return system in good time and, with its own disposal company Prezero, has no problem getting hold of recycling material. Not everyone can say that about themselves. They still have to invest more to get closed-loop systems.

Why are you critical of the EU packaging regulation?

One of the main points of criticism is that the EU has not defined "recyclability." The decisive definitions are postponed to so-called "Delegated Acts", which are to be executed by national decision-makers at an unspecified point in time. As a result, apart from the question of when this would happen, there is a risk of a multitude of different national regulations in Europe. The blanket endorsement of reusables is also too short-sighted. For example, I don't know anyone who uses reusable film. As a trade association, we are generally not in favor of bans to this extent. We are concerned about Germany as a business location. The creation of a single market in Europe is good, but the regulations should be designed in such a way that competitiveness is not restricted.