Most goods are delivered in plastic, metal, paper or glass packaging materials, which are later discarded and buried in landfill sites. Plastic is used ever more frequently as it is lightweight and impermeable. By 1999, it is expected that households will throw away 1 billion tonnes of plastic a year.
Reprocessing capacity is not yet large enough to handle waste material that people are willing to recycle. In Germany, capacity is 250,000 tonnes, but as of 1993 450,000 tonnes of material had been gathered for recycling. Exportation of the surplus waste to other countries only exacerbates those countries' waste disposal problems in turn.
The EEC/EU Directive on Packaging Waste has undergone several revisions and in its 1993, still draft, form, requires 60% recovery and 40% recycling of all packaging waste within five years of the Directive coming into force.
In 1993 there remained considerable disagreement on whether to burn wastes or simply collect less waste, on whether recycling should be mandatory, and on what quotas to set. Targets per country range from 50% to 80% recovery of packaging materials with 30% to 80% of the recovered material to be recycled.
Packaging waste constitutes around a quarter of household waste, which in turn constitutes around 6% of total waste. The amounts of packaging waste per person in 1991 were: in the Netherlands, 156 kg; Japan, 163 kg; West Germany, 125 kg; France, 181 kg; Britain, 134 kg; USA, 210 kg.
3.1% less packaging material was used in 1992 than in 1991 in Germany. For packaging alone, the USA uses approximately 50% of its paper, 75% of its glass, 40% of its aluminium and 30% of its plastics. In 1993, only about one eighth of household waste in Europe was recycled.