Topic Area: Solid Waste Management
Geographic Area: Germany
Focal Question: How does the German green dot system help to reduce the quantity of solid waste?
(1) Rousso, A. S. And S. P. Shah, "Packaging Taxes And Recycling Incentives: The German Green Dot Program" National Tax Journal Vol. 47, No. 3 (1994): 689-701.
(2) Chilton, Kenneth, "Making Manufacturers Responsible for Recycling: Passing the Garbage Buck" Solid Waste Association of North America 1995 US/Canadian Fed Solid Waste Management Conference (1995): 17-32.
(3) "Duales System on Firmer Ground in Germany" BioCycle Vol. 35, No. 6 (1994): 61-64.
Reviewer: Nancy L. Zierman, Colby College '96
The issue of waste management is of concern in Germany as it is in many places. In an attempt to minimize the quantity of solid waste, Germany placed an ordinance on packaging in 1991. This ordinance placed the responsibility to minimize waste on the manufacturers. By requiring manufacturers to take back the packaging of their goods and reuse or recycle it, the ordinance would work towards reductions in solid waste. The green dot system is a way to facilitate the industries' compliance with German regulations concerning waste management. Two goals were set: one for gathering waste and the other for separating. Together these goals imply a recycling rate. The aim is to recycle 72 percent of glass, tinplate and aluminum packaging waste, and 64 percent of paper, plastic and composite packaging. For comparison, the U.S. reported about 22 percent of glass and tinplate packaging was recycled in 1990. The regulations to achieve this ambitious goal would create incentives for the industries to minimize waste in the production processes and packaging.
Germany's green dot system in theory would cause manufactures to design packaging for waste avoidance. The system concentrates on three types of packaging. The first type is transport packaging such as pallets and crates used specifically for the transport of materials and goods. Secondary packaging consists of containers that are not essential for the use of the good such as the boxes around toothpaste and aspirin. This type of packaging primarily protects and displays the goods in a store, but is often discarded immediately after purchase. The third type is primary packaging which is the actual casing of a good. For example, toothpaste tubes and soda bottles are forms of primary packaging.
Companies found that it was challenging to meet the recycling quotas on their own. As a result, the "Dual System" (Duales System Deutschland) was created. It is a non-profit organization in which industries pay a fee to become a member. Members of the Dual System (DSD) will then put the green dot trademark on their packaging. They are now guaranteed from a recycling company that their packaging will be recycled if collected. Drop off and curbside collection for all packaging with the green dot trademark is also available. The availability of recycling receptacles makes it more convenient and more likely for households to recycle which leads to a greater chance of companies meeting the required recycling quotas. As of September 1993, 12,000 companies had signed on for the green dot program including 1900 firms based outside of Germany.
In addition to the membership fee, which covers administrative costs, companies had to pay according to a schedule based on each package's volume. The highest fee was $0.12 for package volume greater than 30 liters (1,014 oz.). Most of the German packages fell into an intermediate category in which the fee consisted of $0.012 per 200mL-3liters (6.8-101oz.) volume packaging.
In October of 1993, a new fee schedule was announced and went into effect. The industries would now have to pay fees based on the package materials and weight. For example, glass is presorted by households, so the fees on glass ($0.04/lb.) are the lowest fees. These fees are considerably lower than those on plastics ($0.82/lb.) which still need to be sorted at the recycling plant. Therefore the new fee schedule reflects the true costs of recycling particular materials. This new fee schedule would hopefully alleviate any of DSD's financial problems as compliance and payment of fees increase. The burden is clearly placed on the manufacturers initially. However, the consumers will share the burden as prices of consumer goods increase due to the increase in costs to the producer. The green dot system has proven to reduce waste. In 1992-1993, the consumption of packaging decreased by about 4 percent. Containers have been reused more and the quantity of secondary packaging has dropped by 80 percent. (Chilton, 1995) The green dot system was responsible for the collection of 4.6 million tons of recyclables in 1993. (BioCycle, 1994) There are some concerns with the green dot system such as the oversupply of recyclable waste. As the program proves to be successful, more markets for products made of recyclable waste will need to be created. In order for this program to be completely successful, the collected waste will need to be reused or recycled fully.