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Germany unveils plastic reduction plan

November 26, 2018

Less plastic-wrapped produce, more recycling, doing away with plastic straws and cutlery: Germany's Environment Ministry has issued a plan to make the country less of a "throwaway society."

Symbolbild: Obst und Gemüse in Plastikverpackung
Image: Reuters/L. Niesner

Environment Minister Svenja Schulze on Monday announced a plan designed to tackle levels of plastic waste in Germany and beyond.

The plan includes reducing excess plastic products and packaging, making packaging and other products more environmentally friendly, using more recycled materials and reducing the amount of plastics in biowaste.

Read more: Bioplastics: Great green hope or a false promise?

The Environment Ministry also called for more international commitment to reduce sea garbage and to find more sustainable uses of plastic.

"With these measures, we are reversing the trend in the use of plastics," Schulze said in a statement. "We produce far too much plastic in our consumer and throwaway society."

The five-point plan in brief

The ministry's proposal advocates the following five steps to drastically reduce plastic waste: 

  1. Avoiding unnecessary products and packaging: Schulze gave the example of a banana, which "comes with its own biodegradable packaging, namely a banana skin. That will have to suffice in future."
  2. Making packaging and other products more environmentally friendly: Companies will be encouraged to do this via new licensing rules, with less environmentally friendly packaging incurring larger fees. 
  3. More recycling, more recycling stations: The government aims to increase its plastic recycling targets from 36 percent of total waste to 63 percent by 2022.
  4. Preventing plastics from getting into organic waste: This would also improve the quality of compost. People will be encouraged to take more care when separating their trash, a common practice for years in Germany.
  5. International efforts to limit plastic waste at sea: Increased German aid donations are foreseen to this end, specifically to clean up the 10 rivers that are thought to account for 90 percent of the plastic waste in the world's seas.

Changing packaging

In many instances, plastic packaging, such as for loose fruits and vegetables, can be replaced with an adhesive label, the ministry said. Other alternatives, such as increasing the availability of drinkable tap water and doing away with microplastics in cosmetics by 2020, were also proposed.

The ministry also called single-use plastic, such as cutlery and straws, a "global issue" and would support a European-wide ban on such plastic items. Schulze pointed to the success of similar recent legislation banning single-use plastic shopping bags from many stores. 

Read more: 5 single-use plastics the EU should ban

On an international level, the ministry noted Germany's €50 million ($56.8 million) investment in the export of technology that removes sea garbage. It called plastic waste "a global challenge that does not stop at borders."

Read more: Plastic waste and the recycling myth

Germany's BDE federation for waste disposal, water and raw material businesses welcomed the basic direction of the plan, but called for more measures. It said that many of the measures mentioned in the five-point plan, such as the EU Plastics Strategy and the Packaging Act, have long since been adopted and that more needed to be done to create a market for recycled materials.

dv/msh (AFP, dpa)

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