The new EU consumer protection regulation hits the packaging industry

The new EU consumer protection regulation hits the packaging industry 1920 768 flustix

” Some will need to reorient themselves”


Exploding prices for raw materials, a threatening energy crisis, changing purchasing behavior and new requirements for sustainability – the packaging industry is facing enormous challenges. Topics that will be in focus at the upcoming FACHPACK 2022 trade fair and are likely to be a topic at every booth. Malte Biss, the founder of flustix, looks ahead to the most important meeting of the packaging industry in an interview with sustainability writer Carsten Gensing.

Let’s start with a thesis: The time of elaborate packaging will hopefully soon be over. Unpackaged is sexy. Or is it?

Well, it’s not that simple. The role of the packaging industry is underestimated. There is hardly anything that is not packaged. Packaging protects, preserves, informs and keeps clean. Packaging even decorates, which is not always pretty. It can be fun, it can be sexy, it can provide a decisive incentive to buy. But it can also be annoying if it is oversized or ends up in nature. We need to be clear about what packaging is all about. This is not just about packaged cold cuts and cheese in the supermarket, it is also about the entire logistics, about storage systems. Even unpackaged goods are packaged at some point in the value chain. Packaging is everything. We need the packaging industry for a functioning circular economy, just as we need it to achieve our climate targets.

What are the biggest challenges?

We are currently experiencing a rapid change in the industry. Packaging is to become smaller, lighter and thinner. Sure, that sounds good at first. Unfortunately, we’re also noticing that less material sometimes means a deterioration in performance. If the goods are damaged because the packaging no longer protects them, it doesn’t do anyone any good. At flustix, we also focus on recyclability: with some composite materials, there are no ways and means to effectively return the components to the cycle.

What does that mean?

We may have to use more material again for some packaging. Take food, for example: Packaging with different components reduces the chances that the recyclable materials will survive pre-sorting in the recycling plant. The production of packaging from mono materials is more expensive, but the recyclability of this material is significantly higher. You have to take a differentiated look at this.

But in light of the climate and raw materials crisis, don’t we need less packaging instead of more? How do you view the unpackaging trend in food retailing?

I like the unpackaging trend, but we shouldn’t be naive. The goods are also brought to the supermarket and the nuts or noodles are not lying unpackaged in the truck trailer, after all, but are securely packaged during transport. It never works without packaging. Never. And somehow it has to be brought home by the customers. And then it’s packed again.

That’s where reusable packaging and new deposit systems could help

Yes, I’m a fan of reusable solutions. But we have to take people’s shopping behavior into account. For example, my wife once brought milk in reusable bottles from an organic market further away. Actually a good thing. But the bottles are only taken back by this one market. Since we don’t go there, the bottles have been sitting dusty in the garage for six months. That doesn’t help anyone.

What does an optimal deposit system look like?

Our refillable bottle system in Germany is one of the world’s most sustainable systems and the envy of the international community. Nevertheless, it can be optimized. Another example from my everyday life: I live near Berlin and like to drink Flensburg beer. The swing-top bottles have to be brought back to northern Germany for cleaning and filling. If the Flens were in a standard bottle, one could save on trips.

But Flens would then be missing its pop, and at least the brand essence would be damaged.

Yes, that’s true. But we have to discuss that, too. Maybe that’s the bullet we have to bite in order to become more sustainable. In some areas, it’s not that difficult. Let’s take mineral water. It makes no sense to cart water in glass bottles from Italy to Berlin. We can all influence that ourselves: Water from the tap is great, or it’s best to buy it regionally if you don’t have a fizzer. That saves transport distances.

Back to the supermarket. How will I get my fresh groceries home in the future?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. It will come down to coexistence of different systems. These could be containers that people bring home and fill at the fresh produce counter. Or regional deposit systems used in rural areas within a community. Reusable deposit systems that are compatible with each other and that can be used everywhere are best. There are already examples of this, too, especially in the area of to-go beverages.

Reusable containers are often heavier than single-use plastic packaging. Doesn’t that also play a role?

Of course, it does. If you go shopping by public transport or by bike, it’s not easy to transport all the fresh food and drinks in glass containers. But should you, therefore, take a car? And – what about traveling? We have to be that honest: Then plastic is sometimes the better solution. I like to take our one-way deposit system for beverages as an example. Someone gets on a train at Lake Constance and buys mineral water in a PET deposit bottle. The empty bottle is light, and he can return it to Sylt. That’s not the worst solution.

What are the biggest annoyances?

There are still these flops, where products are offered in oversized packaging to pretend more mass. Overall, this has become less because NGOs are attentive here, sometimes awarding negative prices. That has an effect.

Which packaging should disappear altogether?

We need to get away from poorly separable composite materials. Beverage cartons made of composite materials are advertised as “recyclable,” but this doesn’t really work. The whole family would have to sit together and dissect the skins of the apple juice carton. It doesn’t make economic sense. If it doesn’t pay off, it won’t catch on. On the positive side, certain types of packaging are disappearing: Noodles in a carton with a viewing window. Nobody needs that. It’s enough if the noodles are printed on the carton. This is a development that I see not only in food retailing but also elsewhere: even traditional screw manufacturer SPAX is gradually doing away with its viewing windows in the screw cartons.

What do you think of multi-component packaging that consumers are supposed to dispose of separately?

This applies to yogurt cups, for example: The cup itself is made of plastic, the lid is made of aluminum, and the outer packaging is made of cardboard. A good thing, if it is disposed of separately. But do you know how many people do that?

No. I would guess: rather few.

Exactly. In the beginning, it was one in five consumers. Today, it may be a bit more. Let’s assume half or even 60 percent, that would be great – but then 40 to 50 percent of this three-component packaging still ends up in incineration because it wasn’t separated. Nevertheless, the path doesn’t have to be wrong. It’s a learning process that people go through. Most are ready for it and have a desire to participate. How do we explain how to separate properly? On the packaging, of course. Packaging is communication.

However, the relevant areas of the packaging are used more for marketing purposes than as operating instructions for the correct separation of recyclables.

That’s why we need much more than that: broad-based information campaigns. Dual system, Grüner Punkt (ger. Green Dot System), yellow garbage can – what belongs in there, how do I separate correctly? When was the last really big campaign on this? That was decades ago. Without these campaigns, knowledge about this is atrophying.

Are we unlearning how to separate waste properly?

Yes. For example, when I was a teenager, the AIDS issue was boiling over. Rock Hudson, Freddie Mercury, campaigns for condoms in all media, on posters, on TV – it was omnipresent. It worked. A few years ago, I was surprised when AIDS was suddenly on the rise again, especially among younger people. Why? The campaigns had fallen asleep and so had the attention. If we expect people to actively participate and get involved, we need to communicate that. We need a lasting and successful major campaign for the separation of recyclable materials. That would protect the environment – and it would improve the recycling rate for plastics.

What kind of plastic packaging is good for recycling?

High-quality mono materials. An example of this is mattress packaging materials. Really solid, absolutely high-quality material. Something like this is not only recyclable but can also be second-hand, for example, for renovation work at home. Or to cover garden furniture. This is the best material, which also makes sense. The mattress must be vacuumed, otherwise, the transport becomes more costly and consumes additional resources. Besides, nobody wants a dirty mattress. That’s where hygiene comes in. A new mattress must be clean..

For the same reason, online retailers package their clothes in plastic. Surely that can’t be a good thing.

Yes, but this is something different. Here, low-quality goods are often packed several times. It starts with the fact that every single shirt, sewn somewhere in the Far East, is put into a polybag before being shipped to protect it from moths, insects and odors. Before shipping to the online retailer, it goes into another bag, which in turn goes into a shipping bag. There are a few things we can do here. The least is to use recycled bags to protect textiles. Unfortunately, there is often a lack of recyclates.


There is too little recycling. We must not forget one thing: The triumph of plastic began in the 1970s. Paper and metal recycling already existed back then, but plastic recycling is still very young. The recycling industry can’t keep up with the demand and thus the new production. We have already produced a Mount Everest out of plastic. Now we have to make sure that we can also recycle gigantic quantities and thus curb new production.

In the fall of 2023, we can expect a tightening of consumer protection laws: The EU is planning a new regulation under which ecological and sustainable promises, so-called green claims, will be regulated. Will this have an impact on the packaging industry?

Yes, of course! We’ve already mentioned it: packaging is also communication, these marketing promises like “climate neutral”, “plastic-free” or “recyclable” are very essential components in packaging design in many industries. The EU estimates that more than 50 percent of sustainability promises on the packaging are misleading or even false. This is where the marketing departments and designers come in: packaging must be redesigned because simply putting a claim on it and then painting the whole thing a little green won’t be enough in the future. Some distributors will have to rethink their approach as there will be very strict rules. As a reminder, the new regulation stipulates that promises must also be substantiated: Anyone who labels their packaging as “recyclable” must also have this confirmed independently.

That’s where flustix comes in?

Yes. We have built up a completely independent system with licensed partners: DIN CERTCO from TÜV Rheinland, institutions such as the Papiertechnische Stiftung, and accredited testing laboratories from the Wessling Group, which are recognized worldwide. Our team guides companies through the entire certification process. The flustix seals, therefore, offer the greatest possible security for consumers as well as for manufacturing companies. The flustix seals deliver what they promise, whether it’s freedom from plastic, recyclability or the use of recycled materials.

Find out which flustix seals there are here.

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