The new packaging rules require that all packaging should be recyclable, fulfilling strict criteria to be defined through secondary legislation. Set specific targets to reduce plastic packaging.
This week, the European parliament adopted its position on new EU-wide packaging rules that aim to tackle waste and boost reuse and recycling. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) approved the report, which constitutes Parliament’s mandate for negotiations with EU governments, with 426 votes in favour, 125 against and 74 abstentions.
In addition to the overall packaging reduction targets proposed in the regulation (5% by 2030, 10% by 2035 and 15% by 2040), MEPs want to set specific targets to reduce plastic packaging (10% by 2030, 15% by 2035 and 20% by 2040).
Experts’ Comments on the New EU Packaging Rules
MEPs want to ban the sale of very lightweight plastic carrier bags (below 15 microns), unless required for hygiene reasons or provided as primary packaging for loose food to help prevent food wastage. They also propose to heavily restrict the use of certain single use packaging formats, such as hotel miniature packaging for toiletry products and shrink-wrap for suitcases in airports.
To prevent adverse health effects, MEPs ask for a ban on the use of so-called “forever chemicals” (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances or PFASs) and Bisphenol A in food contact packaging.
MEPs aim to clarify the requirements for packaging to be reused or refilled. Final distributors of beverages and take-away food in the food service sector, such as hotels, restaurants and cafés, should give consumers the option of bringing their own container.
The new rules require that all packaging should be recyclable, fulfilling strict criteria to be defined through secondary legislation. Certain temporary exemptions are foreseen, for example for wood and wax food packaging.
MEPs want EU countries to ensure that 90% of materials contained in packaging (plastic, wood, ferrous metals, aluminium, glass, paper, and cardboard) is collected separately by 2029.
Rapporteur Frédérique Ries, of the Renew Europe Group, a pro-European political group, said: “Recent events in Europe, and particularly in Belgium, concerning water pollution by PFAS chemicals show the urgent need for action. By voting to ban “forever” pollutants in food packaging, the European Parliament has shown that it seeks to protect the health of European citizens.”
“Regarding plastics, the contract has been fulfilled, since my legislative report tackles the heart of the issue by setting tougher waste reduction targets for plastic packaging.”
Ries added that the “end of throwaway packaging is still a long way off” however, commenting: “Unfortunately, on the circular economy, and prevention in particular, the outcome of the plenary vote is not so positive and ignores the reality of the figures: a 30% increase by 2030 if we don’t act now.”
“Advances circularity, but fails to correct priority access”
EuRIC, the leading voice for a competitive European recycling industry, welcomes the adoption of Amendment 435, focusing on the certification of recycled content, which marks a crucial victory for the environment and the competitiveness of European recyclers. This amendment combats counterfeit recycled content and greenwashing in the EU market, ensuring a level playing. EuRIC now urges the Council to join this momentum. EuRIC also supports the Parliament’s focus emphasis on ensuring that all packaging is recyclable through strict criteria and the introduction of a 90% separate collection target for all packaging materials.
The association also welcomes the plenary’s call for banning intentionally added PFASs, (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) and Bisphenol A in food contact packaging, and reiterate their position that the PPWR’s restriction of intentionally added PFAS should not affect the REACH process outcomes.
However, the endorsement of AM 138, which allows bio-based plastic feedstock to count towards up to 50% of recycled content targets, undermines the effectiveness of recycling efforts and favours petroleum-based plastics. Euric strongly urge the Council to clearly separate these two categories and provide legal clarity to maintain the integrity of recycled content targets.
EuRIC is disappointed with the approval of priority access for certain producers to recycled materials (AMs 102, 266), which they regard as an intervention in free market principles. This approach risks undermining the recycling market by favouring larger producers and impacting small and medium-sized enterprises adversely. Euric counts on the Council to overturn the Parliament’s approach and foster a regulatory framework which allows the recycling industry to invest in capacity-building and innovation to recycle plastics in the EU.
“A position for the wrong century”
The European Parliament’s latest round of voting this afternoon on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) reflects a stance that is behind the times, according to Zero Waste Europe.
Annex V, a list which itemised unnecessary packaging formats, suffered a major blow with extensive derogations proposed by the ITRE Committee and by a delegation of Italian MEPs. Packaging formats that were gutted include disposable plates and cups from dine-in restaurants, single-use packaging for fruit and vegetables, and single-use sauce and sugar tubs and sachets.
Though waste prevention targets were preserved at 5% by 2030, 10% by 2035, and 15% by 2040, the watered-down text excluded crucial mechanisms needed to actually reach those targets. The position included reuse targets with derogations, reflecting an outdated stance that goes against the waste hierarchy.
Aline Maigret, Head of Policy, states: “We are dissatisfied with the decreased ambition in the text. Granting derogations and exemptions on waste prevention and reuse to ‘appease’ industry players is unacceptable and takes us even further from the ultimate goal of this revision: reducing packaging waste.”
One of the major derogations to reuse targets stipulates that if a Member State can report that it has over 85% recycling rate for specific packaging, such packaging is exempted to comply with reuse targets.
Raphaëlle Catté, Policy & Research Support, – Zero Waste Europe, states: “By favouring recycling over reuse, the new derogations in Articles 22 and 26 question the whole foundation of EU waste law, namely the waste hierarchy. Recycling will not stop the waste problem, even with robust systems. It is worrying that not only right and far-right parties, but MEPs from all backgrounds, yielded to lobbyist arguments.”
The Parliament voted against the introduction of a credit-based system for recycled content targets, which would have reduced transparency. However, while biobased plastics seemed to have been removed from the recycled content targets, the final vote lacks clarity.
Janek Vähk, Zero Pollution Policy Manager, states: “We regret that the European Parliament failed to make mixed waste sorting mandatory. In order to meet the EU’s recycling targets, it is crucial to recover all recyclable packaging waste for recycling. Wherever packaging waste is not separately collected, sorting mixed waste is the only viable option to keep the material value of recyclable packaging in the circular economy. Therefore, sorting such waste should be mandatory (“shall”) and not just a voluntary option (“may”) for Member States.”
With a new Council of the EU presidency due in January 2024, negotiation extensions pose uncertainty for concluding this file within the current mandate. This demands swift action and a need to keep ambitions high to secure a deal before the upcoming elections next year.
“Missed opportunity to incentivise investments in circular plastics packaging”
Plastics Europe believes that the Plenary vote in the European Parliament contains some welcome aspects, such as rewarding highly collected or recycled packaging formats and seeking to ensure that the best performing packaging solutions from an environmental perspective are chosen.
According to Virginia Janssens, Managing Director, Plastics Europe, “The Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation is one of the most important elements of the plastics transition enabling framework. So, although Plastics Europe welcomes a number of decisions taken by the European Parliament, we believe today’s Plenary vote was a missed opportunity to strengthen this critical piece of regulation and create the incentives for the huge investments needed to make plastics packaging circular.”
Creating the right market pull and regulatory conditions for circularity are essential for incentivising the EU plastics system to significantly increase its drive towards both mechanical and chemical recycling. These are vital for improving the quantity and quality of recycled plastics, reducing the reliance on fossil-based raw material input, and accelerating the circularity of all parts of the plastics packaging system.
Virginia Janssens states that, “It is unfortunate that the decision by the Environment committee to reduce the recycled content targets for contact sensitive packaging has not been reversed in Plenary. This is a missed opportunity to use the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation to boost the development of the market for recycled plastic packaging in Europe.”
Plastics Europe is also disappointed that MEPs have failed to sufficiently clarify the role of bio-based plastics and recycled content as separate but complementary solutions that contribute to the plastics industry’s sustainability journey and have failed to mandate that packaging which the members of Plastics Europe will redesign to make fully recyclable is sorted prior to incineration and landfill.
Furthermore, Plastics Europe is disappointed that the European Parliament did not adopt amendments which improve the material neutrality of the proposed legislation. This further threatens the investment climate in Europe for circularity of plastics packaging through arbitrary measures, including bans and reduction targets applying to plastics packaging only, without any impact assessment or demonstration of environmental advantages.
“A significant stride towards advancing the circular economy”
The Permanent Material Alliance – comprising the Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging (APEAL), European Aluminium, the European Container Glass Federation (FEVE) and Metal Packaging Europe welcomes the recyclability provisions adopted by the European Parliament’s plenary session today. The vote signals a commitment to more ambition, and this is a significant stride toward advancing the circular economy and positions the European Union as global leader in sustainable practices.
“The performance grades, and their strong qualitative recyclability criteria, will foster innovation by rewarding packaging that is designed for recycling whilst also being sufficiently and effectively collected, sorted, and recycled at scale. They are a great step forward to a truly EU Circular Economy,” said Alexis Van Maercke, Secretary General of APEAL.
“The definition of high-quality recycling is a pre-requisite to encouraging economic operators to enhance recyclability” said Krassimira Kazashka, CEO of Metal Packaging Europe. “We support the introduction of the concept for ‘high-quality recycling. However, the European Parliament missed the opportunity to have a more robust definition incentivising materials that can withstand multiple recycling loops without any change to their main material properties, stimulates design for recycling and further boosts effective and efficient recycling.”
Maarten Labberton, Director Packaging Group of European Aluminium, commented “High quality recycling of packaging materials highly depends on the availability of efficient separate collection and sorting systems for packaging waste. A timely and ambitious approach which encourages the separate collection of packing waste in all EU Member States is a must and we fully support the separate collection target of 90% endorsed by the European Parliament today”.
“Aluminium, glass and steel are today already preventing waste as our materials are largely collected, sorted and undergo high-quality endless recycling into new loops,” added Adeline Farrelly, Secretary General of FEVE. “We are glad to see that the European Parliament adopted packaging waste reduction targets to mitigate against the risk of substitution of fully circular materials (Permanent Materials) by difficult to recycle packaging materials.”
In conclusion, the Permanent Materials Coalition calls upon the Council of the EU to fortify the PPWR, ensuring it enhances the EU Circular Economy, safeguards the environment, and maximises the retention of resources within the economy. The Alliance remains committed to collaborative efforts that promote sustainable practices and drive the transition to a circular and environmentally conscious future.
EU Parliament strikes a balance for circular packaging
The corrugated cardboard industry supports the European Commission’s intention “to reduce the negative environmental impacts of packaging and packaging waste while improving the functioning of the internal market” via the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR).
Therefore, European Federation of Corrugated Board (FEFCO), welcomes the outcome of today’s European Parliament Plenary session vote on the legislation. The vote has established the way forward for a sustainable packaging industry. Notably, it sets ambitious provisions for circularity while preserving existing, well-functioning waste management systems and acknowledging the competitiveness of European businesses.
FEFCO now calls on the Council to follow the same direction to ensure the complementarity of recycling and reuse in the final PPWR legislation. The preservation of sustainable packaging industries, like corrugated cardboard, requires a balanced and realistic approach that secures competitiveness and harmonises the internal market.
Corrugated cardboard is one of the most recycled packaging in Europe, with a recycling rate of over 90% and an average recycled content of 89%1 from a renewable source. Corrugated cardboard packaging is a unique example of circularity and FEFCO member companies are dedicated to further improving the sustainability of packaging systems in the European Union.
Eleni Despotou, Director General of FEFCO, said, “The corrugated cardboard industry is committed to supporting the PPWR objectives while promoting circular packaging options for the benefit of the environment and society.”
European Parliament sends mixed signals to the bioplastics sector
European Bioplastics (EUBP) welcomes a less prescriptive approach, such as the one adopted by the European Parliament in plenary session today, for the packaging formats where bio-based and compostable plastics play an important role and will continue to do so.
“Today’s vote can be seen as a first step in allowing the EU to reach the goal of generating, at least, 20% of the carbon used in chemicals and plastics from non-fossil sources by 2030”, says Roberto Ferrigno, Head of EU Affairs at EUBP. “However, the full potential is still not reached. We regret that the role of bio-based plastics in achieving the targets of recycled content was not supported. EUBP believes bio-based plastics can and will, if enabled, contribute to the transition towards a circular economy, by storing and repurposing carbon dioxide”, he elaborates.
In an increasingly competitive market, the persistent over-regulatory approach towards bioplastics puts at risk the further development of sustainable innovative packaging applications by slowing down necessary investments.
“EUBP calls on EU co-legislators to design and adopt a Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation that allows for the further development of net-zero, bio-based polymers production technologies as enablers to achieve the European Green Deal transformation”, concludes Hasso von Pogrell, Managing Director at EUBP.
Source: European Parliament, Euric, Zero Waste Europe, Plastics Europe, European Aluminium, FEFCO, EUBP