In force or planned: Which regulations apply to sustainable plastic packaging?

31 January, 2023

Recycling, use of recycled materials, reduction of CO2: things are changing in the field of plastic packaging, because industry and politics are setting the course for an even more effective circular economy.

This change is accompanied by regulations that set a uniform framework throughout the industry and are intended to promote sustainable action. Keeping track of all this can be challenging for consumers. What applies to whom, with what goal and effect? Our article aims to provide assistance here. It clarifies the most important regulations and explains why the decision in favour of plastic packaging can be a consciously better one. Already in force: measures for more sustainability

In order to avoid waste, protect the environment and save raw materials, the German Packaging Act stipulates comprehensive measures. These include:

Mandatory deposit

PET Recycling 2023PET bottles of fruit and vegetable juices, alcoholic beverages, nectar bottles and some beverage cans were deposit-free for many years, unlike mineral water, soft drinks or beer. But this has been the case since January 2022: since then, all non-returnable plastic beverage bottles and all beverage cans are subject to a deposit. From 2024, plastic bottles for milk drinks will also be subject to a deposit. The deposit system ensures efficient recycling.

Reusable systems

Since 2023, delivery services, restaurants and caterers must also offer reusable containers (such as Vytal, Recup, Pizzcycle) for takeaway and ordering as an alternative to disposable containers. Businesses with a sales area of up to 80 square metres and a maximum of five employees are exempt.

Recycled content for non-refillable PET beverage bottles

From 2025, non-refillable PET beverage bottles must contain at least 25 percent recycled plastic (recyclate). From 2030, a quota of at least 30 per cent will apply to all single-use plastic beverage bottles. In Germany, these targets are already more than achieved. Here, on average, beverage bottles contain more than 40% recycled material.

Recycling quotas for all packaging materials

Different recycling quotas must be achieved for packaging. For plastic, the target for 2022 is 63%. According to the Central Packaging Register Office, a mechanical recycling rate of 65.5% was already achieved for plastic packaging in the yellow bag in 2021. The rate achieved was thus significantly higher than the legal requirement of 58.5% for the year in question and even higher than the increased recycling target of 63%. Since the introduction of the Packaging Act in 2019, the recycling rate has increased by 55 %. Until 2018, it had stagnated at a level of around 42%.


Since 3 July 2021, the production of and trade in certain single-use plastic products have been banned within the European Union (EU). These include, for example, disposable cutlery, cotton buds, straws or disposable food containers made of EPS. Since 2022, retailers in Germany are also no longer allowed to hand out lightweight plastic bags - but not all plastic carrier bags are banned because of this. Why it is not a good idea to replace plastic bags with paper, for example, is explained very well by the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) on its website.

Export of plastic waste

Since 2021, there has been an EU-wide export ban on plastic waste that is not sorted by type or is contaminated and therefore difficult to recycle. Stricter regulations have already been controlling the proper recycling of plastic packaging since 2019.

Still in draft form: guard rails for sustainable plastic packaging

The EU wants to achieve the transformation to a climate-neutral circular economy by 2050 - the Federal Republic of Germany is even planning this for 2045. At the end of 2022, the EU published its draft for a new European packaging regulation. It is to replace the previous EU Packaging Directive 94/62/EC. The draft law is part of the "Green Deal" and the Action Plan for the Circular Economy. In 65 articles, the EU Commission proposes requirements for sustainable packaging. In addition, there are requirements for extended producer responsibility and the collection, treatment and recycling of packaging waste:


By 2040, the EU wants to gradually reduce packaging waste by 15 percent. Packaging should be reduced to the minimum necessary to still fulfil its function, for example through eco-design.

Design for recycling

From 2030, all packaging on the market should be at least 70 percent recyclable, and from 2035 at least 75 percent. Accordingly, the criteria for design-for-recycling are to be adapted and standardised throughout the EU.

Recyclate use rates

Status Circular economy Plastic packaging Recycling Recyclable DepositAs of 2030, according to the draft, all plastic packaging must have a minimum share of post-consumer recyclates, i.e. consist of packaging waste from households, commerce and industry. For food packaging, the share is 10 per cent, for one-way beverage bottles 30 per cent and for all other plastic packaging 35 per cent. By 2040, it is expected to rise to between 50 and 65 per cent. Researchers are already investigating which waste streams and technologies can meet this large demand for recyclates.

Compostable packaging

Two years after the new European packaging regulation came into force, certain products must be industrially compostable, such as tea bags, coffee capsules or stickers on fruit and vegetables.


There are to be reuse or refill quotas in certain sectors, such as take-away catering, the beverage sector, industrial sales packaging and transport and outer packaging.


Uniform labelling of the packaging and the associated waste container should facilitate waste separation. For example, a QR code on reusable packaging should provide information on take-back points.


Disposable plastic outer packaging that bundles cans, for example, is to be banned. Disposable packaging for fruit and vegetables should be allowed if it is necessary for their protection. In addition, single-use packaging used within restaurants and some micro-packaging in hotels and restaurants should be banned.

Deposit systems

Deposit systems for one-way plastic beverage containers are to be in place in all EU member states from 2029. Germany is already one step ahead with its successful deposit system.

Still in draft form: cleaning up public spaces

According to the Disposable Plastic Products Directive, manufacturers or distributors of certain to-go packaging for food and beverages are to bear the costs of municipalities for the collection and disposal of this waste in public spaces. Unlike in other countries, this is to be done in Germany with the help of a special state levy. The products affected, the amount of the levy and the companies involved are still under discussion.

Already in force: bonded closures and more transparency

The Single-Use Plastic Labelling Ordinance (EWKKennzV) is also intended to contribute to limiting littering, reducing the press image labelling of disposable cup consumption of products made of single-use plastic and using plastic as a resource more carefully within the framework of the European Single-Use Plastic Directive (EWKRL). From 3 July 2024, only single-use plastic beverage containers whose (plastic) closures and lids are firmly attached to the containers throughout their use will be permitted. Disposable beverage cups made of plastic must contain a label warning of the consequences of littering. By the way, this does not only apply to plastic, but to all our carelessly discarded waste.

Working together for a more efficient circular economy

The Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen (IK) is the association of manufacturers of plastic packaging in Germany. It accompanies regulatory processes in a constructive and critical manner, always with the goal in mind that a strengthened domestic market with a functioning circular market economy for packaging will emerge. In doing so, the association advocates a fair ecological assessment of the material and, in the interest of climate protection, against discrimination against plastic.

Source: IK