July 14, 2022
min reading

Unpacking Recycling in Retail: Challenges and Strategies

Learn more about the current state of recycling in the German and European retail sector, which EU directives apply & how to improve your waste management.

Unpacking Recycling in Retail: Challenges and Strategies
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Waste management and recycling continue to pose new challenges for the retail sector. For example, thanks to EU directives and regulations such as the Packaging Directive and the Circular Economy Action Plan, retailers are required to reduce their waste volumes and increase their recycling. At the same time, more and more retailers want to improve the environmental impact of their business and aim for better recycling.

In this blog post, we cover

  • the current state of recycling in retail in Europe
  • the most relevant EU directives and regulations for the retail sector
  • how to improve your recycling and waste management as a retailer

Let’s dive right into it!

Packaging Is the Biggest Source of Waste in Retail—And Its Biggest Opportunity

Transport, sales or outer packaging; in the retail sector, more than half of all generated waste consists of packaging materials that are to be reused or recycled by law. According to Eurostat, the data analysis organisation of the European Commission, almost 80 million tonnes of packaging waste were generated by EU member states in 2019—this comprised paper, cardboard and carton, plastic, glass, aluminium, tinplate, wood and other packaging materials.

For instance, more than 15 million tonnes of plastic packaging were generated in the EU in 2019 alone: including packaging films, cups, cans, boxes, pallets, and PET.

However, only about 36 percent of packaging waste was recycled in the EU in 2020. A large proportion is still incinerated. In the future, it will be important to efficiently and effectively recycle an even higher quantity of valuable materials. The retail sector also faces the challenge of implementing the principle of the current waste hierarchy: prevention, reuse, recycling, recovery, disposal.


Watch now: How to Shape the Future of Retail Sustainably

The Top 5 Recycling Directives and Regulations for Retailers

But in the day-to-day business of retail, there is usually not enough time for waste and sustainability managers to develop strategies for better recycling and optimise their recyclables management. Instead, their daily routine is determined by compliance with regulations and a considerable administrative burden:

  • The 2018 amendment to the EU Packaging Directive increased the required recycling rates: by the end of 2025, at least 65% of all packaging waste will have to be recycled. Within this figure, a recycling target of 50% applies to plastic, and 75% for paper and cardboard paper. By the end of 2030, the recycling rate for packaging will increase to 70%.
  • EU Waste Framework Directive: since 2021, member states must report data on the reuse of products (textiles, electrical and electronic equipment, furniture, building materials and products) to the European Commission based on quantitative as well as qualitative data.
  • Amendment of the Packaging Act (VerpackG, Germany): In addition to manufacturers, distributors of reusable packaging are also obliged to take it back and recycle it. The requirements are the same as those that previously applied to transport, sales and outer packaging.
  • The amended Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act (ElektroG, Germany) has been in force since 1 January 2022. It dictates that from July 2022 at the latest, food retailers with a sales area of at least 800 square metres that regularly or permanently offer electrical appliances must also take back old appliances free of charge. Member states are expected to implement EU rules, like the WEEE directive about treating waste from electrical and electronic equipment.
  • In Germany, according to the Commercial Waste Ordinance, 90% of materials must be sorted and documented at the point of generation. This includes the waste fractions paper, glass, plastics, metals, organic waste, wood and textiles.

How to Improve Your Recycling and Waste Management as a Retailer

Meeting the requirements of all directives and regulations is challenging. Especially, if relevant data is not available and there is a lack of transparency in daily operations and recycling processes. The most efficient and effective way to optimise your retail waste management is to digitise it. Get our guide to learn how to transform conventional analogue waste management into active, digital recycling management.


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