In September, the European Parliament was due to vote on the new Packaging & Packaging Waste Regulation. But this can has been kicked down the road and now the vote won’t happen until this month. In the meantime, the battle between those calling for reuse (the politicians) and those largely favouring recycling (the packaging producers) continues. Which side will win? Neil Osment, Managing Director of paper packaging industry analyst firm NOA, tries to answer the question.

Back in August, at the height of summer (such as it was), we looked at PPWR and its aim to curb packaging waste.

We highlighted a disconnect between the politicians, who favour reuse of packaging, and the preference of packaging producers, for recycling. Since there is already a sophisticated and efficient cardboard recycling system across Europe, and with fears that ‘reuse’ would remove 70% of cardboard boxes from the system, this preference is understandable.

The utopian dream of the MEPs is for packaging to be reused time and again in a closed-loop system. This can work very well. For example, look at the plastic trays that supermarket fruit and veg are displayed in. However, in reality, such a system is very difficult to apply to cardboard containers.

We noted that, while the debate rages – which we are light-heartedly calling Dallas versus Dynasty – consumers are putting pressure on brand owners, because they want action to be taken over plastic packaging. They aren’t so much interested in reuse versus recycling; they simply want change.

So, what is the situation now, three months on, with the PPWR plenary vote deferred, and a final vote not likely to take place until later in 2024?

Over the summer, as a result of extensive lobbying by brand owners and retailers, PPWR has been tweaked to be more favourable towards paper-based packaging producers. But, cardboard is not out of the woods. To make PPWR even workable it has been split into sub-projects; in reality, it could be three to ten years until PPWR makes itself felt throughout Europe.

In the meantime, and in the face of consumer pressure, brand owners haven’t let the grass grow under their feet. We have already talked about Unilever’s Carte Do’r switching to a moulded pulp carton, with a plastic liner; detergent tablets coming in cardboard boxes; and a new Pringles pack (from Kellogg’s) which is 100 percent recyclable, with the tube now being made of 90% paper. Walkers, too, is moving towards putting multipacks into boxes instead of an outer plastic bag.

Similarly, the drinks industry has been quietly embracing more and more paper packaging formats. The multipacks that used to be plastic shrink-wrapped now use cardboard, complete with a carry home handle.

At NOA, we have studied five market sectors for a new report for the European Carton Makers Association, looking at the proportion of paper-based packaging in 2017, compared to the percentage today, and what we predict it will be by 2027. Here is what we found:

  • Chilled and ambient food: 12% now (was 9% in 2017) and will be 16% by 2027
  • Drinks: 48% now (was 33% in 2017) and will be 50% by 2027
  • Detergents: 43% now (was 39% in 2017) and will be 46% by 2027
  • Frozen: 36% now (was 35% in 2017) and will be 38% by 2027
  • Cakes, biscuits and bakery: 27% now (was also 27% in 2017) and will be 30% by 2027

So, as we predicted, while reuse versus recycle (or Dallas versus Dynasty) plays out, the clear trajectory being adopted by the brand owners is to move towards paper-based packaging.

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