Case study GHG effects of the German packaging material recycling system DSD

As a result of the European Packaging Directive manufacturers and distributors of packaging are obliged to take back and reuse, recover or recycle the packaging they have put onto the market. But it is not necessary to do it them selves. In Germany they may be exempted from their obligations by participating in a system which collects sales packaging from consumers on a nationwide scale. Participation in such a system must be indicated by marking the packaging in question, and evidence of participation must be submitted to the competent authorities on demand (Hagengut, 2002).

In Germany a private organisation named DSD (Duales System Deutschland AG) was founded in 1990 by the business community for the retail trade, the consumer goods industry and the packaging industry. It operates as a nonprofit organisation. A nationwide collection system for sales packaging was set up. Services are provided to almost 100 percent of households. The system is financed by the trade mark „Grüner Punkt (Green Dot)".

Under this system manufacturers apply for DSD and pay for corporation a fee to place their symbol of DSD, the Green Dot, on their packages. DSD collects and recycles the packages, instead of the producers of the packaging material which are responsible for it by law. The Green Dot shows the consumer that the package can be put into separate bins or sacks which exist in most households for collection purposes. In 2000, according to mass flow verification, nearly 5.67 Mio t of used sales packaging were collected. 96.5 percent were forwarded for recycling (Hagengut, 2002). In 2006 approximately 0.6 Mio t of plastic sales packaging were successfully recycled into regranulates, and thus made into new plastic products. The total GHG emission reduction was an estimated equivalent of 1.7 Mio t CO2 (DSD, 2007).

The material collected is treated in sorting plants of which currently about 250 exist in Germany. The treatment involves a variety of different steps, such as dry mechanical pre-sorting, wet mechanical preparation, and plastic processing. What results is about 80 percent of secondary raw material and a residue consisting of wood, textiles, and stones. The composition and the material budget are given in table 12.4.

Table 12.4 Secondary material and residues after DSD (2002)





Beverage cartons


Paper fibres




Polyethylene granulate


Polystyrene granulate




Poly-olefine agglomerates


Residues (wood, textiles, minerals)


Options other than the DSD Green Dot System are under discussion for the collection and treatment of light weight packaging amongst which only the Red Dot system involves the collection of large plastic packaging (see table 12.5).

Table 12.5 Differences in waste management options for packaging material (DSD, 2002b)



Recycling / Disposal

Green Dot

Collecting of lightweight packaging in a kerbside system within easy reach of households; residual waste in grey bins

Automatic sorting of lightweight packaging fraction by materials (so-called SORTEC technology) with subsequent re-processing of all materials; 100 percent high quality mechanical recycling; 100 percent combustion of residual waste

Red Dot

Reduced collection of lightweight packaging (only for large plastic packaging) via container bring system; residual waste and small plastic packaging in grey bins

Mechanical recycling of plastics; residual waste combusted


Collecting of lightweight packaging together with residual waste via grey residual waste bin

Combustion with 50 percent energy use for electricity, steam, district heating; scrap reprocessing from slag

The total climate impacts of these systems may be calculated as the difference between

• expense in energy and material for the establishment of the system, the collection and the treatment of packaging material

• benefits from avoided process and energy needs for the material collected.

The budgeting of these items results according to table 12.6 (DSD, 2002b), which displays GHG effects and other eco-balancing characteristics.

Table 12.6 Results of environmental balancing for 2 Mio t lightweight packaging

Environmental Indicator


Green Dot

Red Dot

Waste combustion

Greenhouse effect

Mio t CO2-eq.




Acidification potential

103 t SO2-eq.




Environmental Indicator


Green Dot

Red Dot

Waste combustion

Nutrition potential

t PO3-eq.




Energy need





The results indicate that collecting and treatment of packaging waste by the DSD system is not a burden on the environment at all. With respect to greenhouse effects the application of the Green Dot system reduces the CO2 burdens by nearly 2 Mio t CO2-eq. compared to a system without collection of packaging material. Also with other environmental indicators, such as acidification, nutrition, and energy, positive environmental effects may be achieved.

The conclusion is that the more packaging waste is collected the better. Careful waste separation at home means a tangible contribution from each private individual to resource economy and to climate protection.

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