The European Council has introduced a ‘general approach’ on a proposal for the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation – intended to reduce waste generation in the EU, harmonize the internal packaging market, and drive the pursuit of a circular economy – in preparation for negotiations with the European Parliament.
In November 2022, the European Commission brought forth a proposal for a Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive. It sought to encapsulate the entire life cycle of packaging by mandating recyclability for all packaging, minimizing substances of concern, and improving consumer information by setting labelling requirements. It also lays out binding reuse targets, restricts certain kinds of single-use packaging, and requires economic operators to minimize the amount of packaging they use.
By setting criteria for extended producer responsibility schemes and enforcing waste management provisions, it aspired to make certain that packaging is collected, sorted, and recycled to a high standard while providing Member States with enough flexibility to maintain existing systems. The general approach intends to preserve this ambition to lower and prevent the generation of packaging waste while giving Member States room to tailor the regulation’s implementation to their own circumstances.
It responds to reported figures that the amount of waste generated from packaging is growing faster than recycling rates, with packaging waste apparently increasing by nearly 25% in the last decade and feared to rise by another 19% until 2030 without further action. The rise is expected to reach 46% by 2030.
This October, the Committee on Environment responded to controversy surrounding the potential outcomes of the original draft with a vote on Compromise Amendments, envisioning additional action surrounding plastic pollution, fossil fuel dependency, ‘forever chemicals’ in food packaging, and more. This, in turn, was met with a range of both positive and negative responses.
The European Parliament has also adopted its position on the proposed regulation at the plenary session. Now the general approach will serve as a mandate for negotiations between the European Council and Parliament on the final shape of the Packaging and Packaging Waste legislation, with both institutions required to formally adopt the outcome.
“190kg of packaging waste was generated by each European in 2021,” explains Teresa Ribera Rodríguez, Spanish third vice-president of the government and minister for the ecological transition and the demographic challenge. “And this figure will grow by nearly 20% in 2030, if things stay the same. We cannot let that happen.
“Today’s general approach gives a strong message that the EU is committed to reducing and preventing packaging waste from all sources. This regulation is crucial in our path to a circular economy and a climate-neutral Europe.”
The Belgian presidency will oversee negotiations for the final outcome of the legislation.
The general approach aims to preserve the original scope of the PPWR proposal by covering all packaging irrespective of the materials used, and all packaging waste without discriminating between origins – this includes industry, manufacturing, retail, and household waste. Furthermore, it maintains most of the sustainability requirements for all packaging placed on the European market and headline targets proposed by the Commission.
Under the new rules, the European Commission and the European Chemicals Agency must prepare a report by 2026. This will cover the presence of substances of concern in packaging and establish whether they harm the reuse or recycling of materials or chemical safety.
While the regulation continues to assert that all packaging placed on the market is recyclable, the amendments clarify that packaging is considered recyclable when designed for material recycling, and when its components can be separately collected, sorted, and recycled at scale; the latter will apply from 2035.
The headline 2030 and 2040 targets for minimum recycled content in plastic packaging remain, with the Commission set to review the former’s implementation and weigh up the possibility of the 2040 targets by 2034.
Tea bags and sticky labels for fruit and vegetables must be compostable under the Council’s new agreement – this includes the new option for Member States to require other packaging like coffee pods and lightweight plastic carrier bags to be compostable under specific conditions.
In a bid to cut down on unnecessary packaging, manufacturers and importers will be required to ensure that the weight and volume of packaging are minimized, with the exception of protected packaging designs.
Overall headline targets have also been introduced in the hopes of reducing packaging waste. Basing the decision on 2018 targets, the general approach specifies figures of 5% by 2030, 10% by 2035, and 15% by 2040 – the Commission is scheduled to review these targets eight years after the entry into force of the regulation.
Additionally, Member States will be allowed to set out their own prevention measures concerning packaging waste that are higher than these minimum targets.
The Commission’s defining criteria for reusable packaging is maintained by the Council, but it adds a minimum number of trips or rotations in its use. New reuse and refill targets have been set for 2030 and 2040, with different targets being applied to large household appliances, takeaway food and beverage packaging, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (with the exception of wine), transport packaging (excluding packaging for dangerous goods or large-scale equipment and flexible packaging making direct contact with food), and grouped packaging.
Due to its properties, cardboard is assigned a lower minimum number of rotations and is exempted from the new requirements. Economic operators can also form pools to meet the reuse targets for beverages.
The Commission will be required by the Council to review the 2030 targets and asses both the 2040 targets and the exemptions set out in the provision.
Deposit return schemes (DRS)
By 2029, Member States will be required to ensure that at least 90% of single-use plastic bottles and metal beverage containers are collected separately. To do so, they are called upon to establish deposit return systems for these formats.
Systems already implemented before the regulation is entered into force will not be held to the minimum requirements if they already achieve the 90% target by 2029. Member States that reach a separate collection rate higher than 78% in 2026 will also be exempt.
Restrictions on single-use plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables, food and beverages, condiments, sauces in the HORECA sector, and small cosmetic and toiletry products provided in the accommodation sector, such as body lotion and shampoo bottles.
Member States can lay out their own exemptions under certain circumstances, including for organic fruit and vegetables.
Most mandates concerning operators, manufacturers, importers, and distributors introduced in the Commission’s proposal remain in place. However, the Council has introduced stronger obligations for logistical service providers to make sure that producers using these services do not avoid their extended producer responsibility (EPR) obligations.
Further clarifications have also been provided for the labelling of packaging with the intention of informing consumers about the material composition of a pack and how it can be disposed of at end-of-life. The Council acknowledges existing labelling systems amongst certain Member States by allowing for some flexibility in the new rules.
The date of application for the regulation has been extended to eighteen months after its entry into force.
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