C2 Background
New packaging check by Deutsche Umwelthilfe – Strong criticism of supermarkets

26.01.2022 From the fruit and vegetable department to the drinks shelf and the fresh produce counter – in a new test, the German environmental protection association Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) examined branches of large German supermarkets and discounters. The environmentalists criticised the retailers for producing an unnecessary amount of packaging waste. They are thus claimed to be harming the environment and the climate.

Deutsche Umwelthilfe criticises disposable packaging at discounters.
© Photo: Finke/DUH
Deutsche Umwelthilfe criticises disposable packaging at discounters.

This is the result of the first packaging check of the DUH, for which the environmental and consumer protection association examined 48 branches of 12 supermarket, discounter and organic market chains in a random sample. Only the organic markets scored satisfactorily and received a Green Card. The supermarkets and discounters, on the other hand, all received red cards. They often did not implement even the simplest measures for less waste in the shops examined, criticised DUH. In the case of fruit and vegetables, the testers found that even robust standard products such as carrots, apples or peppers were more often offered in disposable packaging than unpackaged. The front-runner here was reported to be Netto Nord with 81 percent packaged fruit and vegetables during the test visits. In addition, discounters such as Lidl, Aldi Nord and Süd offered 100 percent of the beverages in the tested branches in disposable packaging, which DUH describes as unecological, instead of available regional reusable bottles.

Less disposable packaging demanded

The biggest packaging sinners according to the DUH test were the discounters Aldi Nord and Aldi Süd across all categories examined. In a joint petition with sustainability influencer Nadine Schubert, DUH therefore called on the two Aldi sisters to rid their range of disposable packaging.

Barbara Metz, DUH's deputy national director, said: "Our packaging check clearly shows that the voluntary principle has failed miserably when it comes to waste avoidance in the retail sector. The classic supermarkets and discounters like to advertise with alleged sustainability – but during our test visits to the shops we found: unnecessarily much disposable, too much plastic, too much waste. No wonder, then, that the amount of packaging waste in Germany is reaching new record levels from year to year. Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke must act as quickly as possible and make binding legal requirements. We need a halving of packaging waste by 2025 and an additional single-use levy of at least 20 cents on single-use plastic bottles, cans and beverage cartons. Because producing single-use packaging waste has to become more expensive and must not be profitable."

Promises not kept?

"Responsible packaging, avoidance, recyclability, material cycles or reusability – the retail chains promise a lot! However, it seems to be more about a green polished and sales-promoting image. This is because many of the promises contradict the disposable packaging we have seen on the shelves," says DUH head of circular economy Thomas Fischer. "The organic supermarkets prove in our test that things can be better. Alnatura, Bio Company and Denn's Biomarkt predominantly leave out unnecessary packaging for fruit and vegetables. When packaging is unavoidable, as in the case of beverages, they offer climate- and environmentally-friendly reusable alternatives. In this way, the organic supermarkets are starting exactly where our greatest opportunity for reducing waste and for effective climate protection lies: omitting unnecessary packaging and offering necessary packaging in reusable form!"