German Packaging Law 2019 – new obligations for online retailers in Germany

22.11.2018

German Packaging Law

If you want to send goods, then you have to package them first. As a result, end-consumers have to deal with a lot of packaging waste. The objective of the new Packaging Law is to reduce waste and promote recycling and re-use of packaging materials. This requires a solid database and the registration of all packaging manufacturers involved. It also creates new obligations for online retailers. How much more effort does this entail for e-commerce? The law has mainly established new registration obligations – and a newly created Central Packaging Registry.

German Packaging Law – why?

The German Packaging Law (VerpackG) will replace the current packaging ordinance on January 1, 2019. Initially, the difference is formal: The ordinance will become a law. Whereas a governmental department issues an ordinance, a law can only be passed by the legislature. But the packaging ordinance has more than just a new name; it also newly regulates the way packaging is handled.

What is the use of the law? The official name of the law helps explain its objective:

  • Act governing the distribution, take-back and high-quality recycling of packaging

Resource conservation appears to play an important role here. Actually, the law hopes to achieve an ambitious recycling quota by 2022 – for instance for paper, board and cartons from currently 70 to a targeted 90 percent. The main objective of the law is defined in § 1 Para. 3 VerpackG. The targets are (in this order):

  • Avoid
  • Take-back
  • Recycle

interesting aspect in this context is for instance that dual system operators are obliged to create financial incentives for recycled packaging (§ 21 Para.1 VerpackG).

Who does the law apply to?

The law applies to anyone who puts packaging into circulation either as a manufacturer or retailer. The basic idea is: Anyone who puts packaging into circulation is responsible for its return or its recycling – that is the so-called product responsibility.

The manufacturer is not the person who produces the packaging and distributes it as packaging. The connecting factor of the law starts when the packaging is filled with goods to be dispatched to Germany. Therefore, online retailers are regarded as manufacturers of the packaging within the meaning of the law, and must comply with the obligations for this group.

For many years, manufacturers of packaged products have paid license fees to the Dual System, which assumes responsibility for this duty. But because many market participants have previously been able to “elude” the Dual System, a Central Packaging Registry was created to ensure a better database. Its aim is to make it harder for the “black sheep” in terms of packaging, to use the recycling structures financed by honest manufacturers and retailers.

This is why LUCID was created. This database lists and publicly presents the names of all registered manufacturers of packaging. Persons included in this list, which can be accessed online, may only distribute packaging. Further information is available in § 9 Para. 4 & 5 of the German Packaging Act.

What are the obligations the German Packaging Law involves for online retailers?

What is new is that you must now be registered as an online retailer, i.e., as a manufacturer of packaging within the meaning the law, with the Foundation Central Packaging Registry. This institution is an incorporated foundation under law and is controlled by the Federal Environment Agency and the Federal Audit Office. In the future, you must be registered to participate in the Dual System. If you use packaging materials and you do not participate in this system you will be subject to heavy fines.

The new German Packaging Law involves a total of three basic duties for online retailers:

  • Mandatory registration with the Central Registry (§ 9 VerpackG)
  • Registration with a Dual System (for instance, Zentek, Reclay or Landbell)
  • Annual filing regarding the amount and type of packaging materials (Data reporting according to § 10 VerpackG)
  • Annual so-called Declaration of Completeness according to § 11 VerpackG

The advantage of the Central Registry is that it creates more equality. A comprehensive overview of the packaging materials being used will correspond with the funding of the take-back and recycling systems of the sector-specific market shares.

Most online retailers will be putting packaging in circulation for the first time, and must therefore register for a license themselves. Packaging materials that are put into circulation for the first time include packaging to protect the goods, materials that are used for their handling or are used for dispatching the goods. These are mainly cartons, but also packaging materials such as padding. The mandatory license for the Dual System applies to product packaging as well as packaging for dispatching the goods.

If the supplier has already licensed the packaging, then a second license is obviously not necessary. In case of doubt, online retailers should therefore ask their supplier whether a license has already been issued.

What do online retailers have to do now?

Online retailers have been aware of participation in the Dual System for a long time. However, the mandatory registration with the Central Registry is new. This is valid as of 2019, but you can register now. It is advisable to register now to be sure that you are not subject to any difficulties – for instance, warning letters or fines. Smaller online retailers in particular ought consider using a Dual System partner to file their packaging registration in order to minimize costs and effort.

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