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Organizations from across the packaging industry have responded to the European Parliament’s new position on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation; its ‘ambitious’ measures and streamlined definitions have been praised, yet the text is accused of preserving ‘arbitrary’ bans and targets and being ‘behind the times’ in its execution.

UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe is broadly supportive of the developments of the plenary session. It commends MEPs for ‘fostering a circular economy with the creation of some essential enablers’ – one of which is the roll-out of deposit return schemes (DRS). In tandem with a priority mechanism for certain feedstock for recycling, DRS are expected to boost collection rates for beverage packaging and support closed-loop recycling.

Nicholas Hodac, director general of UNESDA, comments: “While we still have concerns regarding the increased targets without further impact assessment, we are pleased with MEPs’ support for systems enabling refill and the creation of mechanisms that will enable the complementarity of reuse and recycling. This will ensure reusable packaging is introduced where and when it makes the most sense from an environmental perspective.”

Conversely, Natural Mineral Waters Europe (NMWE) shares its reservations that exemptions from mandatory DRS have been diluted in the new draft.

“We are encouraged by the significant and constructive advancements MEPs introduced to the proposal,” says secretary general NMWE. “We continue to voice our support for mandatory Deposit and Return Systems, with exemptions subject to stringent requirements.

“DRS have been shown to be the most effective way to reach high rates of collection for recycling, so it is important that they remain a key part of the proposal if we are to achieve a high level of circularity.”

Like UNESDA, FEFCO is positive about the vote’s outcome. It views the current text as an appropriate step towards circularity that does not compromise existing waste management systems and upholds the competitiveness of the European packaging industry.

Now it calls upon the European Council to ensure that the final legislation ensures that recycling and reuse complement each other, with corrugated cardboard and other sustainability-minded industries desiring ‘a balanced and realistic approach that secures competitiveness and harmonizes the internal market’.

“The corrugated cardboard industry is committed to supporting the PPWR objectives while promoting circular packaging options for the benefit of the environment and society,” said FEFCO director general Eleni Despotou.

Commenting on the vote on LinkedIn, Matti Rantanen, director general of the European Paper Packaging Alliance (EPPA), says: “Today’s clear vote represents a significant step towards a truly circular economy which will enhance the EU’s strategic autonomy, environmental performance and economic resilience.

“Independent, peer-reviewed studies have shown that renewable and recyclable paper packaging yields better environmental outcomes in the food service sector compared to reusable alternatives. It is very promising to see a large majority of MEPs endorse the importance of recycling, by agreeing that where packaging is collected at a rate of 85% or more, it will be permitted on the market.

“As we approach the European Council’s vote, we call on Member States to mirror the constructive approach of the European Parliament and to adopt a science-based and balanced strategy for packaging waste reduction – one that is firmly rooted in real-world data, the latest scientific evidence and the best environmental outcomes.”

Additionally, the Permanent Material Alliance – a coalition consisting of the Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging (APEAL), European Aluminium, the European Container Glass Federation (FEVE), and Metal Packaging Europe – believes that the vote ‘signals a commitment towards more ambition’ when it comes to recyclability provisions. It hopes that progress in this area will bring Europe closer to a circular economy and establish the continent as a ‘global leader in sustainable practices’.

“High-quality recycling of packaging materials highly depends on the availability of efficient separate collection and sorting systems for packaging waste,” said Maarten Labberton, director Packaging Group of European Aluminium. “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.”

Krassimira Kazashka, CEO of Metal Packaging Europe, continued: “The definition of high-quality recycling is a pre-requisite to encouraging economic operators to enhance recyclability. We support the introduction of the concept for ’high-quality recycling.

“However, the European Parliament missed the opportunity to have a more robust definition incentivizing 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.”

In its own statement, FEVE’s secretary general, Adeline Farrelly, praises the European Parliament for ensuring a level playing field while enforcing ambitious reduction targets: “The Parliament vote mitigates against the risk that heavier but circular materials like glass are replaced by lighter packaging materials, but which are harder to recycle or reuse.”

FEVE voices its concerns that Intellectual Property rights could be compromised if the new laws are not handled with care. In this scenario, products with ‘distinctive and iconic’ packaging designs could be under threat, and the organization supports the effort of MEPs to protect distinctive designs.

“Packaging is an inherent part of the product and by its design it helps consumers recognise brands and make informed choices,” Farrelly continues. “Unique and creative packaging shapes are a key touchpoint on the shelves for all consumers.

“Protecting Intellectual Property Rights is a major step forward in safeguarding creative designs and the fundamental role of packaging in product differentiation, identity, brand recognition and value creation.”

Flexible Packaging Europe approves of the text’s clearer deadlines for recyclability requirements, which are expected to aid the industry in scaling up both collection and recycling infrastructures and designing packaging accordingly. Declaring food-contact flexible transport packaging exempt from reuse targets has also been met with approval, as it is expected to reduce food waste and emissions, cut down on contamination, and allow for the use of rigid containers.

“PPWR signifies a great opportunity to scale up circularity and lower the total environmental impacts of production and consumption of packaging and packaged goods by minimizing the resources used and boosting recyclability,” says executive director Guido Aufdemkamp.

However, the organization explains that, although Member States will be required to scale up separate collection efforts, capturing recycled packaging by sorting waste that is not collected separately remains voluntary.

It also points out a ‘lack of proper safeguard clauses’ when it comes to potential supply shortages for recycled plastics or effects on human or animal health, secure food supply, or the environment. This can cause bottlenecks in the food sector, especially, and has a heavy impact on SMEs.

Flexible Packaging Europe also fears that enabling Member States to enforce their own national measures will weaken the PPWR’s harmonization and threaten the Single Market – a viewpoint reinforced by EUROPEN’s LinkedIn statement. EUROPEN has praised the steps taken towards ‘a more science-driven outcome’, but it is critical of the inclusion of ‘arbitrary restrictions and measures’.

“The Parliament’s elimination of some arbitrary bans and reuse targets that are not based on due scientific evidence is a step in the right direction,” said EUROPEN secretary general Francesca Siciliano Stevens. “However, much more work is needed to remove outstanding obstacles that threaten value chains and risk fragmenting the Single Market.”

European Bioplastics (EUBP) is optimistic about a ‘less prescriptive approach’ to bio-based and compostable plastics, but noted ‘mixed signals’ to the bioplastics industry within the new text.

“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 biobased plastics in achieving the targets of recycled content was not supported. EUBP believes biobased plastics can and will, if enabled, contribute to the transition towards a circular economy, by storing and repurposing carbon dioxide.”

Zero Waste Europe’s Dorota Napierska, Toxic-Free Circular Economy policy officer, is pleased with the text’s approach to the crackdown on PFAs and Bisphenol A in food-contact materials, as well as its measures to increase traceability and transparency in the use of ‘substances of concern’.

“Almost twenty years on, REACH and Food Contact Materials Regulations have failed to sufficiently protect human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals in various food packaging materials,” she comments. “That’s why today I find it encouraging to see that the European Parliament is acting with urgency on hazardous chemicals in food packaging.

“Today’s vote shows the extra ambition in tackling these chemicals, specifically in Article 5. When the PPWR proposal reaches the European Council next month, we hope it will keep ambition high and prioritise consumer safety, particularly for vulnerable groups.”

On the other hand, Zero Waste Europe describes the European Parliament’s stance as ‘behind the times’. It expresses its concern that Member States are exempted from complying with reuse targets if they can provide evidence of a recycling rate exceeding 85%.

Raphaëlle Catté, Policy & Research Support, 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.”

“We are dissatisfied with the decreased ambition in the text,” adds head of Policy Aline Maigret. “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.

“We urge the trilogues to keep the ambitions of the file high. There is a need to respect the waste hierarchy by prioristizing prevention and reuse first, as well as call for safe circularity in packaging, to achieve the ultimate goal of this regulation, which is to reduce waste.”

Another talking point recently arose when the Committee on Environment voted on Compromise Amendments to the PPWR. Controversy was sparked surrounding its recycling targets, bans on single-use packaging, potential threats to unique design, and more.

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