The German Packaging Institute (dvi) is a platform for information, insights und impulses, and works to be a network for the packaging industry, supporting the know-how transfer as well as a dialogue between companies, institutions and partners. Its members come from all levels of the value chain.

Prior to Fachpack, where dvi hosted its annual packaging German Packaging Award 2019 ceremony on September 24th, the day before Packaging Europe’s Sustainability Awards, Elisabeth Skoda caught up with Kim Cheng, dvi’s managing director and talked about the ongoing packaging sustainability debate from a German perspective.

Connecting the entire supply chain

Showcasing the industry’s innovative strength and what sustainability solutions already are out there and what solutions are in the pipeline in the future is one of the key purposes at dvi, which is supported by regular events, as Ms Cheng explains.

“We strongly believe that it’s only through including the entire supply chain that it is possible to create new solutions. That’s why we host regular events, like our Packaging Days and our Packaging Congress, which aim to bring members of the packaging supply chain closer together.”

A passionate discussion

An emotional debate has raged in recent month and years about packaging and its environmental impact, and we asked Ms Cheng what this has meant for the industry.

“In the public perception, packaging is often considered waste. This view affects the entire industry, and not just one material. When there is plastic bashing, the entire industry takes note. The topic of ocean littering has really captured the public’s imagination not least through intense media coverage. But it is of course more than just an ‘image’ problem for the packaging industry – it is a problem that needs to be addressed. Packaging has the function of a ‘lighthouse’ and is very visible to consumers. But this can be turned into a positive if the industry becomes a pioneer of innovation. Packaging was an initiator for product responsibility and the circular economy, and we can take our responsibility seriously and showcase our innovative strength further.”

Rules and regulations

In Germany, the Verpackungsgesetz and reaching recycling quotas is a hot topic. How has this affected the industry? While the German recycling and return deposit system is often considered exemplary, there are challenges linked to the dual systems for recycling.

The concept of the ‘dual system’ goes back to 1991, when the German government passed a new packaging law requiring manufacturers to take care of the recycling or disposal of any packaging material they sell. German industry then set up a ‘dual system’ of waste collection, which picks up household packaging in parallel to the existing municipal waste-collection systems. This system is now provided by a range of providers.

“Stakeholders face the challenge of having different recycling systems which are in competition with one another and each have slightly different criteria for the recyclability of a pack. The Central Authority (Zentrale Stelle) established through the Verpackungsgesetz, defines minimum standards. But as private players, the dual system providers aren’t very keen to change. The Industry wishes to simplify, as of course the system also isn’t in tune with other European countries,” says Ms Cheng.

Tackling the recyclability challenge


Recyclability has only been a focus in packaging for a relatively short time. In general, packaging companies are on the ball and well prepared, but there is no room for complacency, as Ms Cheng explains.

“Recyclability in packaging has come to the fore thanks to the Verpackungsgesetz and in particular paragraph 21, which encourages manufacturers to use packaging materials that consist (partially) of recycled materials or a high percentage of materials that can be recycled. The public’s focus is currently on plastic and ocean littering, but all materials and processes are being questioned with regards to their sustainability, and recyclability is a key criterium for a circular economy. Political will, consumer desires and demands from brands and retail will mean that packaging manufacturers won’t be able to ‘afford’ insufficiently recyclable products from an image point of view but also from an economic point of view.”

Misunderstandings about packaging are commonplace, as she points out.

 “One of the things that come up repeatedly is the perception that packaging equals rubbish. Of course that is not the case, it is a valuable secondary raw material if it is disposed of correctly. I often emphasise that packaging does not have any use on its own, but only works in combination with the product it packages, it has a job to do that often isn’t seen by consumers.”

A nuanced view

At the moment the overall sustainability debate centres firmly around climate protection.

“Product damage resulting in food waste can cause harm to our climate, and here, packaging has an important role to play. But on the other hand, we cannot just sit back and continue as we have done. Looking at changing demographics, and the fact that developing countries will want to have similar lifestyles to the ones the West enjoys now, at some point rethinking how and what we consume will become inevitable,” Ms Cheng says.

She warns against quick fix solutions such as compostable plastics.

“At least here in Germany, solutions such as compostable plastics aren’t a panacea. The EN 13432 standard stipulates that there must be a ‘sufficient level of disintegration after 12 weeks in industrial or semi-industrial composting conditions’. For German composting companies, this period is too long for economic reasons. They consider biodegradable plastics as impurities in the compost and reject their disposal via the compostable waste bins.”

‘Plastic free’

In recent months, individuals and supermarkets have declared their environmental credentials by introducing ‘plastic free aisles’ or entire shops that don’t use plastic. We asked Kim Cheng what her opinion is on this.

“The packaging that is visible to the consumer only tells half the story. Even if food is not packaged in the actual shop, it still needs packaging across the supply chain – for example, how did those unpacked nuts get into the trays in the shop in the first place? There a danger of green washing and more food waste. On the other hand, these initiatives increase consumer awareness and makes people think about packaging and about their purchasing choices, so that is a positive thing.”

In conclusion, we asked Ms Cheng about a packaging solution that particularly impressed her in the last year.

“There are a wide range of exciting packaging solutions out there, many of which dvi has awarded with our Packaging Awards. One example that stood out for me is Bio-Lutions. The company develops fibre packaging using regional agricultural waste, made from banana stems, tomato plants, pineapple shrubs, or other plant leftovers which are often just burnt. The packaging is manufactured locally – addressing the issues of sustainable packaging material, reducing waste and long transport routes.