Tomorrow, MEPs will be voting on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation proposal. There is currently a clear divide between nations and stakeholders, with some advocating for recycling and others backing increased reliance on reuse as a solution to the packaging waste problem. Ivana Sobolíková, Impact Strategy Specialist at MIWA Technologies, gives us the perspective of a member of the former group.
Amidst pressing global environmental challenges, the European Union is prepared to lead the charge in addressing the skyrocketing levels of packaging waste and ineffective usage of materials for packaging production, an issue that affects both businesses and consumers across its member states.
October 2023’s Eurostat data revealed a concerning uptick in packaging waste, marking a record high of 188.7 kilograms per individual in 2021. This is a staggering 10.8 kg per person increase from the preceding year. Such alarming statistics have accelerated the need for reform. Packaging is also the main users of virgin materials - 40% of plastics and 50% of paper used in the EU is destined for packaging.
For precisely these reasons, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) is currently being revised. This regulation not only addresses the urgent matter of rising packaging waste but also paves the way for advanced solutions like reuse and refill systems – crucial steps in reducing the amount of materials needed for distribution as well as waste generation.
The co-legislators, the European Parliament and the European Commission have been engrossed in the revamp of the PPWR since its introduction in November 2022. On 24 October 2023, the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), responsible for overseeing this matter in the European Parliament, finalized its stance.
In a significant move towards eco-friendly packaging and the bolstering of reuse and refill methodologies, the vote in ENVI was narrowly won with fifty-six votes supporting, twenty-three dissenting, and five abstentions. Despite resistance, primarily from more conservative groups, the ENVI Committee’s stance indicates a resolute nod towards robust environmental protocols and sustainable packaging procedures. A definitive adoption of mandate for inter-institutional negotiations by the full house is anticipated on November 21.
Compared to the Commission’s proposal, the text adopted in ENVI distinguishes between refill and reuse targets. Environmental NGOs and producers of reusable packaging welcome the result of the vote, namely the measures on refill targeting the retailers.
While the initially discussed target of 20 % may have been regrettably scaled back, the text adopted by the ENVI outlines the requirement that: “From 1 January 2030, final distributors with an area, excluding all storage and dispatch areas, of more than 400m2 shall endeavor to dedicate 10% of their sales area to refill stations for both food and non-food products”. Considering that retailers play a pivotal role in implementing refill systems by installing refill stations at the point of sale, their active engagement is crucial.
Regarding the provisions on reuse, the position adopted in ENVI has missed an opportunity to introduce the new targets, especially for categories like dry and non-perishable food, home and personal care products, all showing promising results in curbing packaging waste.
Nevertheless, the voted provisions that facilitate the potential broadening of reuse categories in the future are a positive step. The text empowers the European Commission to introduce delegated acts on reuse, with a specific emphasis on sectors like detergents, hygiene, and pet food.
Additionally, the introduction of precise targets for reducing plastic packaging waste – 10% reduction by 2030, followed by 15% in 2035, and 20% by 2040 compared to 5%, 10%, and 15% in the original proposal is generally regarded as a step in the right direction. This demonstrates a significant commitment to environmentally responsible practices.
The road to consensus is not without its challenges. As Spain’s presidency at the Council of the EU nears its conclusion this December, negotiations appear to be lagging. With Belgium set to take over the presidency in January 2024, a prolonged negotiation period is anticipated.
A clear split among EU nations is visible, with countries like France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark championing reuse measures, while Italy emerges as a strong advocate for recycling. The rift is not limited to nations alone. Even among stakeholders, there is visible discord. On one side, environmental NGOs and innovative start-ups advocate for sustainable practices, while on the other, established industry behemoths resist, wary of economic repercussions.
As previously highlighted, the European Parliament’s ENVI position on the PPWR, while considered a positive move, missed the chance to set more ambitious targets, particularly by greater engagement of retailers and pushing for new reuse categories. The forthcoming adoption of the Council’s position and the subsequent outcome of inter-institutional negotiations will reveal the ultimate direction this regulation will take.
Member states for their part hold a pivotal role, as the PPWR encourages them to implement various incentives for re-use and refill systems. This presents an opportunity to introduce a variety of measures that can promote further reuse and refill systems at the national level, such as supportive infrastructure or funding.
The upcoming decisions by EU policymakers are not just policy changes; they are a declaration of Europe’s vision for a sustainable future. This pivotal point offers not just a challenge but an opportunity – a chance for innovation, responsibility, and a greener tomorrow.
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