The perfidious goings-on of the garbage collectors

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The perfidious goings-on of the garbage collectors


Anyone who creates packaging waste pays for it. Actually. Because many companies illegally bypass disposal fees – despite high fines and harsher persecution.



Anyone who creates packaging waste pays for it. Actually. Because many companies avoid the disposal fees.


© Getty Images
Anyone who creates packaging waste pays for it. Actually. Because many companies avoid the disposal fees.


From the outside, it looks as if the company is doing its best to adhere to the applicable rules: The IT retailer who sells computers, software or keyboards to offices and consumers has a compliance department. He even publishes a sustainability report. Apparently the company cares about the environment. Only its garbage fees, it doesn’t pay. Not this year – and not in the years before.

This is what it says in the report that the Central Packaging Register has just published. The authority is responsible for monitoring packaging fees in Germany. The Green Dot was introduced in Germany 30 years ago. Since then, companies have had to pay for yoghurt pots and pizza boxes, for cream jars or toothpaste tubes, for printer boxes or memory card covers – for all the packaging waste that occurs at consumers’ homes or in offices and authorities. These fees now finance the garbage collection, sorters and recyclers for thousands of tons of plastic waste, paper packaging and glass bottles. The costs: around 1.5 billion euros a year.

But not all waste producers pay their fees by a long way. Many companies do not know that the Packaging Act also applies to them. Or they count their contributions small. As a result, around 15 percent of paper packaging ends up in the garbage today without the companies responsible paying any fees. With plastic it is even up to 25 percent.

This can have dangerous consequences for the fee pushers: because the authorities have become more vigilant. You have new opportunities to take action against fee fraudsters – and you can use them too.

Michael Wiener doesn’t like free riders, if only because of his job. Weiner is the managing director of the Dual System Germany – one of the providers where retailers and manufacturers pay their garbage fees. “If you don’t register your packaging quantities, you put a strain on the whole system,” he says. “The honest ones bear the costs for the free riders,” criticized Wiener.

The fee fraudsters are not concerned with high sums: a tube of toothpaste costs around 1.2 cents per tube, a carton of milk 1.8 cents, the bag for grated cheese, on the other hand, only cost 0.3 cents, the inner part of the toilet roll only 0.03 cents. This is what it says in an overview that the Federal Environment Agency published for 2018.

Change, in the truest sense of the word. But it adds up. Just as the problems caused by the free riders can add up. You have the power to shake the whole system. A few years ago they almost overturned it: in 2013 and 2014 the proportion of free riders was over 50 percent. This tore a funding gap in the system, the system could only be saved at that time by a financial injection from the trade association. Since then, the situation has improved, says Michael Wiener.

3400 files on fee fraudsters

The woman responsible for this is called Gunda Rachut. Since it was founded two years ago, the lawyer has been in charge of the central packaging register. Since then, the number of companies paying garbage fees has increased from around 60,000 to around 200,000. But many small businesses in particular are still unaware that they too have to pay fees for packaging. Even providers from abroad who sell their products over the Internet like to ignore the German rules. “Packaging is clearly an environmental problem, and many companies have understood that,” says Rachut. “Not everyone drew the conclusion that their own packaging was also a problem,” she says.

Your agency is therefore specifically looking for cases in which companies avoid fees – such as that of the IT trading company, which did not want to pay its garbage fees. Only when the central office informed the company of the breaches of the law did the company even register itself in the packaging register. Authorities can demand fines of up to 100,000 euros for this alone. However, the IT dealer has not paid its fees for years – this can be punished with up to 200,000 euros. Actually, the retailer should never have sold the products for whose packaging he had not paid for. The authorities should therefore even skim off the profits. Then it comes to fines in the millions.

Rachut has many files with cases like the IT dealer’s. “This year we have already passed on almost 500 specific suspected cases to the responsible waste authorities,” she says. “And there are around another 2900 available for delivery.”

The problem: Rachut cannot impose the fines himself. The central office only collects the information on free riders – the lower waste authorities of the federal states are responsible for tracking. But they don’t always have the capacity to follow up on the cases.

“It must finally come to an end with the view that it is a trivial offense,” says Michael Wiener. He would like the authorities to take action tougher – and stricter rules for online trading. The foreign suppliers, for example, would often sell their products on Amazon and eBay. “The platform operator should be the one who has to ensure that all providers also register their packaging quantities on the platform,” Wiener demands. Until then, free riders will remain a problem.

More on the subject: Plastic prices fall and fall. This makes recycled materials increasingly unattractive for manufacturers.

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