Which interests dominate environmental policy economic or environmental interests? The case of plastic packaging waste disposal and recovery in Germany

Jana Marliese Mandel

Student thesis: Master thesis


The European Union regards the circular economy concept as the solution to several environmental problems generated by the production and disposal of plastic packaging. The concept aims to move from the perception of ‘waste as a problem’ to ‘waste as a resource’, thus reconciling environmental and economic interests. Germany has a relatively well-functioning waste infrastructure and belongs to the EU ́s frontrunners in the recycling of plastic packaging, although it has not yet reached a closed loop. This thesis examines how the practical progress in plastic packaging waste recovery in Germany, in the sense of environmental objectives, came about in view of the traditionally strong position of economic associations in German waste politics. To do so, policyprocesses leading to relevant regulations in the German plastic packaging waste management between 1986 and 2019 were analysedon the basis of a comprehensive collection of information gathered through documentary analysis and complementing expert interviews. In order to explain the results of these policyprocesses, hypotheses were developed referring to assumptions of regulation theories and public choice theories.The thesis concludes that due to the government ́s great dependency on private industryto provide solutions for combating and avoiding negative externalities of waste disposal, economic associations have had a strong influence on the shape of plastic waste policies. Nevertheless, the respective governments were identified as the main actor triggering the practical progress in the recycling of household plastic packaging in Germany since the 1980s. It is further argued that government policy was not primarily motivated by publicwelfare, but by the self-interest to avoid the political costs of inaction in the form of voter losses, given the increasing importance of environmental issues in public opinion. It is assumed that environmental associations had only a minor and indirect influence on regulations.The strong contrasts between economic and ecological interests, which prevailed particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, blurred in the 2010s. All stakeholders accepted the objective of reaching a circular economy. However, the policies and instruments, with which thisgoal is to be achieved in the future, remain controversial. Furthermore, the central building block for "closing the loop" lies in the further development of the secondary raw materials market, which is heavily dependent on the price of crude oil on international markets. This pushes national environmental policy to its limits.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages85
SupervisorsVerena Girschik