Conference: Shaping the Social-Ecological Future today

On Thursday 28th November the conference for the 30th anniversary of the ISOE took place at the Stadthaus in Frankfurt. One of five discussion forums dealt with the field of sustainable consumption and focused on plastic packaging. The participants discussed questions of waste prevention and recycling (circular economy) and how to handle plastics sustainably.

Recent figures of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung show that the volume of packaging waste has doubled in recent years, while only 15.6 % of plastic waste is actually recycled.

The PlastX-Team invited Tim Janßen (Managing Director of Cradle to Cradle e. V.) and Dr. Melanie Kröger (Scientific staff member at Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development) to talk about two visions of sustainable use of plastics: To avoid waste (Zero Waste) and to recycle waste (Cradle to Cradle).

The two presentations were followed by a discussion with the audience on how these visions can be integrated into everyday life, which actors need to work together, which regulations may be necessary and the role of the consumer behind the practices.

Tim Janßen presented the vision Cradle to Cradle (C2C):

C2C calls for a new way of interacting with resources and material flows. The core of this vision is a different view, in which humankind is seen as a part of nature and beneficial to the planet. Instead of producing waste, intelligent design of products creates a new form of interacting with resources. To recycle materials, it is important to know which materials a product contains and therefore products and services are being re-imagined from start to (re-)start – from cradle to cradle.

Key points of the discussion:

  • In the vision, the quality of materials is maintained during recycling.
  • A new understanding of “quality” is required: Quality must not only be a question of aesthetics and functionality, but must also include whether a material makes us sick or produces waste. Therefore, C2C can become a quality feature.
  • With a new culture new goals can be reached. It is a question of time, how and when a society accepts something new.
  • Some companies already use the C2C principle for their own quality requirements and not because of economic advantages.
  • For C2C, cooperation is crucial, especially in trade.

For more information about C2C:

Melanie Kröger presented the vision Zero Waste:

The project “The packaging-free supermarket: current state and perspectives” started in 2016 and monitored the Zero Waste scene in Germany. The aim of the research project is to collect and analyze potentials and challenges of the unpackaged concept in Germany as part of a qualitative study and to examine its implications for sustainable consumption

At the moment, there are about 150 Zero Waste shops, many are currently established and few have closed so far. There is a great dynamic and the idea spreads: Some organic supermarket chains take over the idea, many farms integrate Zero Waste and “unpackaged” is a big topic at organic trade fairs.

Packaging has many functions (protection, storage, transport, usage, information). If packaging is omitted, these functions have to be fulfilled differently. Therefore, changes along the entire value chain are necessary.

Key points of the discussion:

  • Zero Waste is not only an urban topic and stores are opened wherever someone likes to open one.
  • Because it is a niche market, it is impossible to predict who the consumers are. The consumer type differs per location and there are always some, who cannot be reached.
  • The smaller quantity of products compared to regular supermarkets is usually not seen as an obstacle. In many cases, consumers perceive the small selection as a relief.
  • Zero Waste stores can be seen as a kind of laboratory to show how unpackaged consumption can work.


For more information about the project :

Photo: Harry Kleespies