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Photo: Stas Knop / Pexels

The first German Reusable Packaging Conference took place recently and delivered a message: disposable packaging can be replaced by climate-friendly reusable alternatives in almost all situations and places. Roughly 200 delegates from politics, society, business and academia took part in the digital event organised by Environmental Action Germany (DUH). Solutions for reusable takeaway food containers, coffee capsules and cosmetics and disinfectant bottles were presented. Environmental Action Germany declared that the onus is on the federal and local governments to spread solutions for reusable packaging such as these, for example with binding quotas for reusable products.

The organisation also criticised major campaigns by Lidl, Danone and Pepsi for their disposable plastic bottles made of 100% recycled material as greenwashing. The argument is that disposable plastic bottles cannot be seen as ecologically equivalent to local reusable bottles, even if they consist fully of recyclate. Because reusable bottles are also recycled at the end of their life, the organisation believes that reusing and recycling is more environmentally friendly than disposing and recycling. In addition, it argues that disposable plastic bottles do not feed into a closed materials cycle and therefore harm the environment.

According to a recent study of the plastics industry, 16.4 billion disposable plastic bottles are manufactured in Germany each year, with 70% consisting of virgin fossil-based material. The study also found that using recycled material for disposable PET bottles does not change anything about the environmentally unfriendly supply structures for disposable products. They are centralised in a national distribution organisation and tend to be transported over long distances as a result. For reusable packaging, on the other hand, there are 1,800 bottle-filling companies and they mainly distribute their products locally.

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