Compostable packaging: German Junk High Tech I a…

Compostable packaging: German Junk High Tech

I am in Germany right now. The next few weeks I will focus on renewable energy (solar and fuel cells), sustainability issues and probably anti-Iraq war discussions. As you may have heard, German government opposes a possible war against Iraq. Germans as grumpy “not with us” party pooper?! — I like that and I hope our social-democratic chancellor Gerhard Schröder or the Bavarian, pretty conservative chancellor candidate Edmund Stoiber will keep on standing firmly. See, there is a general election coming up Sept.22nd; no wonder politicians are profiling themselves as anti-war proponents. Steel will turn into pudding after Sept. 22nd, I am afraid. Alternatively, we may find out even earlier when the American “good-doers” will show their evidences to the world, scheduled for Sept. 12th.

Anyways, I already had some interesting talks with friends here. Last night a friend of mine told me about his experiences in London. He shared a flat with a bunch of English, Irish and Australian gals — which sounded quite promising to me — but he totally screwed up; his display of pure German-ness seemed to have intimidated the care-free-fun-loving-women. All he did was neatly folding together empty packages and introducing a sophisticated recycling system. Too much. Apparently, not all that complaining about English waste junkies who throw chips packages right out of the window brought him any Karma points. While he tried to explain his recycling philosophy (yeah…ask Germans about that, evening filling cheap entertainment) one woman sheepishly looked at him and clapped her hands slowly. Yeah, Mr. Smarrrt-ass, tell us..!

Here comes the constarch wrapper

Now, I don’t wanna be your ultimate smart-ass; I am also on a steep learning curve again. However, Germany seems to be many steps in front of the rest of Northern America. There are interesting developments regarding compostable packaging in Germany. There always have been pilot projects but they never really took off. The reasons: Mainly technological challenges. Either packaging machines did not harmonize with the eco materials or yoghurt containers simply melt away like ice in the sunshine. On the other hand, packaging was simply too expensive; even to environmentally sensitive Germans.

But a promising pilot project in Kassel gives some hope. Here about 30 companies sold their products in compostable packages: Cookie packaging, vegetable wrap, even diapers; materials are potato- or cornstarch, no more plastic. The worldwide biggest model project for compostable packaging enjoys high acceptance by the consumers: 61 per cent already knew the high-tech materials by September last year. 80 per cent of the people living in Kassel, who have bought the new products (every 5th person) found the quality to be good or even excellent, 87 per cent would buy the products again.

Germans are willing to spend more on eco packaging

This is based on a survey of 600 interviews as an interim result of the project in autumn 2001. Furthermore, the survey results show that a third of the consumers would be ready to pay extra money. A shopping bag, which costs 10 cents today, may cost 15 cents, if it is compostable. The consumers would pay 5 cents more for a biodegradable yoghurt container than for a non-biodegradable one. Higher price increases would, however, make it more difficult to sell the new material.

US/Canada: Potatostarch for thought

Food for thought for Americans and Canadians Could that also work in Canada and the US? Why not? It has to be convenient and only slightly more expensive. Or even cheaper. After all, this could be another source of income to farmers, right? Only problem right now are the costs: Such packages currently cost 2-3 times more than regular plastic cheapos. Nevertheless, I believe, this could be a great opportunity for entrepreneurs. It makes so much sense: According to this survey, it takes 20-80 percent less energy and CO2 to produce these packages than plastic. Again, such technologies need some help from the marketing departments: forget about ‘eco-friendly’, it has to be ‘cool’ and cheaper. When are you going to wrap your BLT sandwich into that potato starch foil?

Here is some more info in English language:

Pilot project Kassel (lots of details on the project, results so far, technologies)

Research Consumer‘s Acceptance [pdf] (University of Weimar)

In addition, as some arguments for your local recycling imitative, here are some recycling facts from Germany:

– According to the private recycling organization (Der Gruene Punkt – Green Dot), last year each German recycled around 76.6 kilograms of waste (from 78.3 kg last year).

– total recycling in Germany 2001: 5.5 mio. tons packaging; thereof 2.3 mio ‘lightweight’ packaging materials such as aluminum and plastics. This saved around 400.000 tons of CO2; this equals the CO2 production of 64.000 German households, using 2000 l oil.


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