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According to the German Packaging Act (VerpackG), companies that place packaging on the market in Germany must comply with many obligations to act in a legally compliant manner. This normally begins with the registration in the LUCID packaging register of the “Zentrale Stelle Verpackungsregister – ZSVR”) followed by the conclusion of a contract with a take-back system for packaging subject to licensing and corresponding quantity reports, right up to the fulfilment of minimum standards about the recyclability of packaging. The company itself is responsible for finding out about and fulfilling all applicable obligations. Otherwise, there is a high risk of penalties or sometimes even a ban on sales activities in Germany.
Please note: The following information is provided as general guidelines and should not be interpreted as legal advice. It is advisable to contact experts for specific questions on the implementation of the Packaging Act and to evaluate individual legal obligations.
The legal background: The Packaging Act (VerpackG) and the “Zentrale Stelle Verpackungsregister – ZSVR”
The Packaging Act 2019 (VerpackG) regulates the placing of packaging on the German market as well as the return and high-quality recycling of packaging waste It came into force on 1 January 2019 and replaced the previous Packaging Ordinance (VerpackV). Manufacturers who put packaging on the market are placed under a greater obligation to contribute to the costs of collection, sorting and recycling of packaging waste.
The “Zentrale Stelle Verpackungsregister – ZSVR” is a German organisation that was established in accordance with the Packaging Act (VerpackG). It is the supervisory authority for the dispensation of packaging in Germany and controls whether companies comply with their packaging law obligations in a legally compliant manner. The ZSVR includes the public packaging register LUCID, where all companies that place sales packaging subject to system participation on the market in Germany must apply for an individual LUCID number to comply with regular reporting obligations.
The difference between packaging subject to system participation obligations and packaging not subject to system participation obligations
The easiest way to clarify whether packaging is subject to system participation obligations in Germany is to know who disposes of it or, in technical terms, “where it accumulates”: If the empty packaging accumulates at private households or comparable points, it counts as sales packaging and must be collected and sorted by a take-back system in Germany. Transport packaging that usually remains in the trade is therefore disposed of commercially and not subject to system participation obligations.
The ZSVR has a list of collection points for the disposal of packaging that are comparable with private households. These include educational institutions, restaurants, hospitals or small craft enterprises. Bakeries are always a good example: If a bakery is a rather small family business, the packaging is disposed of with the municipal waste collection (in regular household waste containers). On the other hand, a company like “Harry Brot” with several locations across Germany has so-called commercial waste containers at its disposal, which are not collected with the regular waste collection.
Companies must comply with packaging law obligations when they
- produce and package goods (i.e., fill empty packaging for the first time) which typically accumulate at private households. Packaging of these goods includes everything that is used for protection, handling, delivery and presentation of the goods (labels attached to products therefore also count as packaging).
- ship goods using shipping cartons as well as other packaging material which also accumulates by private households (mail order companies or e-commerce sellers).
- import goods and have legal responsibility for these goods when crossing the border.
There is an exemption rule for so-called “service packaging”:
- Service packaging is packaging that is not filled with goods until it is handed over to the end consumer. E.g., bakery bags, pizza boxes, aluminium trays, but also films from dry cleaners or bags from market stands.
- Fillers of service packaging can pass on the system participation obligation to the upstream distribution stage. This would be, for example, the manufacturers of pizza boxes or single-use tableware for take-away meals and drinks.
- If the service packaging is already discharged (involved in the system), it does not have to be involved in a take-back system again by the filler.
As mentioned above, there is also packaging that mainly accumulates in trade or industry. This packaging does not accumulate at private households and is therefore not subject to system participation. This packaging must either be taken back by the manufacturer or payment must be made for its disposal (individual agreements can be made between customer and supplier).
This category includes:
- transport packaging
- sales and outer packaging that does not accumulate as waste at private households
- sales and outer packaging that is not compatible with the system (e.g., if it contains certain hazardous materials)
- reusable packaging
Regulations for mail order companies and e-commerce sellers
According to the definition of a manufacturer under the German Packaging Act, mail order companies and e-commerce sellers are also subject to the packaging law obligations. In Germany, they are regarded as final distributors. If these obligations are not fulfilled, these companies also face severe penalties and a ban on distribution.
This also applies to electronic marketplaces such as Amazon or Zalando and fulfilment service providers!
Additional labeling obligations for beverage producers
In Germany, when selling beverages, it must be clearly and visibly indicated whether the packaging is disposable or reusable. As the name suggests, single-use packaging is not reused after it has been returned.
Since 1 January 2022, Germany has a mandatory deposit on all single-use plastic beverage bottles and beverage cans. There is still an exception for milk and milk products: the mandatory deposit does not come into force until 1 January 2024.
In addition, it has been stipulated that from 2025 onwards, non-refillable PET plastic beverage bottles will only be placed on the market if they consist of at least 25% recyclates (this is the technical term for recycled plastic). In 2030, this minimum proportion will be raised to 30%.
Entering the German packaging market successfully and responsibly
The packaging law obligations and environmental requirements are not only a legal obligation, but also an important step towards sustainability and environmental protection. By adhering to these guidelines, companies take responsibility in terms of legislation as well as in the interest of our environment and future generations. In this way, they also simultaneously strengthen their position as responsible players in the global business world.