On 1 January 2019, a new law came into force in Germany that also directly affects retailers and manufacturers who ship goods to Germany – the new German Packaging Act.
It regulates the responsibilities in terms of who bears the cost for the disposal and recycling of packaging waste, with the aim of significantly increasing the recycling rate for this kind of waste. The Act applies to all those who introduce so-called sales packaging (product packaging, shipment packaging and service packaging) onto the market in Germany.
The Act requires that anyone who fills packaging with goods and sends them within or to Germany must register this packaging through a "licence fee" in a so-called dual system. Failure to comply with the regulations may result in fines of up to EUR 200,000, a ban on sales and written warnings.
Just six months after the law come into force, the competent authority made sure that everybody knows it is serious about compliance: The Central Agency Packaging Register handed over 2,000 cases of non-compliance to the responsible federal states for enforcement and sent an email warning all companies that failed to act in accordance with the instructions given below in this article. In early October 2019, the Central Agency again expressed its displeasure with the low licensing rates and announced further nationwide administrative offence proceedings.
Why you as an exporter are affected by the new German Packaging Act
The German Packaging Act applies throughout the whole of Germany, meaning that its regulations also apply to packaging waste that is created in the country through the import of goods which are sent with packaging. Responsibility for appropriately disposing of the packaging is in this case to be borne by the person who is responsible for the goods when they cross the border. Usually this is the importer, but those involved are advised to ensure that this has been clearly set out in contractual terms.
Important note: the person/organisation who is legally required to arrange licensing is responsible for all packaging brought into the country – both for product packaging and for shipment packaging, including filling and cushioning materials.
If you send your goods to end-users in Germany without the help of an intermediary, then you are in all cases obliged to license the packaging which is sent with the goods (product and shipment packaging) yourself.
Quick checklist – the most important questions on the new Act answered in brief
Who is affected by the new Act?
Every retailer who imports goods into Germany along with packaging which will end up as waste to be dealt with by the end-user is required to comply with the regulations of the German Packaging Act. It is always important to clarify who bears responsibility for the goods at the point when they cross the border – whoever this is must then comply with all the legal requirements which arise from the Act.
What types of packaging have to be licensed?
The Act concerns all packaging that ultimately ends up with the German end-user and that will need to be disposed of by them. The overall term used here is "sales packaging" and this means product packaging, shipment packaging (including filling and cushioning materials) and service packaging. It is of no relevance what material the packaging is made of, because all packaging has to be licensed, whether it be cardboard or plastic, or even glass.
What is the minimum quantity from which the regulations apply?
The regulations of the new Packaging Act apply from the very first piece of packaging which is filled and put into circulation – as such, there are no specified minimum quantities.
What is the intention of the German legislator in introducing this new law?
Long-distance trade and mail-order are resulting in more and more packaging waste being created worldwide. In order that as high a percentage as possible of this waste can be recycled, the Act calls on all those bringing sales packaging into circulation to take on the responsibility that comes with their product.
The licence fee paid by retailers and manufacturers ensures that packaging is reliably taken back, sorted and recycled through the so-called dual system. At the same time, the Act prescribes significantly higher recycling rates; from 2022, for example, 63 percent of the plastic packaging that arises in Germany is to be recycled (up until the Packaging Act came into force, this figure stood at only 36 percent).
What do you need to do?
If you are required to comply with the German Packaging Act as an exporter, and you have not yet fulfilled your obligations in this respect, we would recommend that you do so immediately – especially in view of the increased sanctioning for non-compliance and the improved monitoring mechanisms of the Act. A new monitoring body has been set up specifically to ensure compliance – the Central Agency Packaging Register.
There are three legal requirements involved, at two different contact points – and these need to be fulfilled before the packaging is put into circulation.
- Legal requirement: Registration at the Central Agency Packaging Register via LUCID – all relevant company details need to be provided.
- Legal requirement: Licensing of your packaging quantities with a "licence fee" through a dual system such as Interseroh, via their online shop Lizenzero; here you will also enter the registration number which was issued to you by the Central Agency.
Note: the packaging quantity to be provided in this step will only be an estimate of the expected quantity of packaging materials to be used for the year; at the beginning of the following year, you will then review this initial figure again and make corrections to take into account the actual quantity of packaging materials brought into circulation (you will need to keep records of this throughout the year).
3. Legal requirement: Notifying the Central Agency of key data via LUCID (see first legal requirement) – you will now need to provide the name of your dual system and the quantities of packaging licensed with them.
Note: As the details provided to the Central Agency and those in the dual system will be compared, these should always be in agreement.