The EU’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation is closer to becoming law: What’s in the latest proposal?

Regina Mestre is an Analyst in packaging and logistics for Rabobank RaboResearch. In the April 2024 issue of FloraCulture International, she discusses the EU Commission’s proposal for a Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), which will have far-reaching implications for the packaging sector and the management of packaging waste.

Regina Mestre is an Analyst in packaging and logistics for Rabobank RaboResearch.

The EU’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) has reached a crucial stage of its legislative process. The European Parliament and European Council have reached a provisional agreement on the text of the regulation, which aims to reduce the environmental impact of packaging and increase its circularity. The next step for the regulation, is to get approval from the council’s representatives and the parliament’s environmental committee (ENVI). Once both institutions formally adopt the regulation, it will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union and will take effect 18 months later.

This tentative deal is a significant achievement, as the PPWR has faced some challenges and controversies along the way. For example, some member states and packaging producers have expressed concern about the feasibility and costs of achieving the targets for packaging reuse, recycling, and the use of recycled content. Others have questioned the coherence and clarity of the criteria for defining reusable and recyclable packaging. By reaching a compromise, the council and the parliament have given more certainty to the regulation, which is eagerly awaited by many industries and actors in the packaging value chain.

The PPWR will have far-reaching implications for the packaging sector and the management of packaging waste in the EU. The parliament and council’s provisional deal preserves most requirements from the original PPWR proposal and introduces some modifications and new exemptions to them.

Key requirements from the new agreement, including updates and changes, include:
• Recyclability of packaging: Packaging must be recyclable, and recyclability will be measured using a grading system. Specific rules will be developed in secondary legislation.
• Minimum recycled content in plastic packaging: The agreement outlines goals for the minimum required amount of recycled content in plastic packaging. Compostable plastic packaging and packaging with less than five per cent plastic by weight are exempt from this requirement.
• Minimum recycling targets: The agreement maintains national recycling target requirements for each material. Targets will be measured by the weight of packaging placed on the market compared to the weight of recycled materials.
• Substances of concern and PFAS: The deal maintains the obligation to limit and control the use of substances of concern in packaging. It also keeps the ban on the use of food contact packaging containing PFAS. The European Commission will evaluate the ban on PFAS over the next four years.
• Reuse and refill targets: The council and parliament agreed on a 10% goal for reusable packaging for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. By 2030, establishments selling food and drinks to go must allow customers to bring their own containers and offer 10% of their products in reusable packaging.
• Deposit return systems (DRS): Countries must set up DRSs, where customers pay a deposit on top of the price of a beverage and can return plastic and metal drink containers to get their deposit back. This requirement is expected to keep 90 per cent of applicable beverage containers from ending up in the trash by 2029.
• Restrictions on certain packaging formats: The agreement restores limits on certain packaging formats. These include single-use plastic packaging for unprocessed fruit and vegetables and, in the hospitality sector, packaging for food and drinks that are filled and consumed on the premises, individually packed condiments and sauces, and small toiletry products. Limits on these packaging formats will start from 2030.

These provisions will require packaging producers and users to adapt their material choices and processes and invest in innovation and infrastructure. For example, packaging makers may need to replace certain materials with more sustainable alternatives or redesign their packaging to make it lighter, simpler, and more durable. Packaging users, such as retailers and manufacturers, may need to change their packaging strategies and preferences or cooperate with packaging suppliers and waste operators to ensure the proper collection and sorting of packaging waste. Governments may need to provide support and guidance to these players, increase investment in waste management and recycling infrastructure, and also enforce compliance with the regulation and monitor its progress and impact.

This new agreement on the PPWR is an important step in the legislative process, giving the regulation greater certainty and bringing it closer to its final form. While more clarity about the PPWR’s requirements is still expected, it is essential that all the relevant actors prepare for the changes and challenges that the regulation will entail.

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