A position paper signed by Reloop, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Zero Waste Europe, TOMRA, and more has suggested revisions to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR)’s stance on reuse systems, including a clearer definition of reusable packaging and the implementation of complementary refillable solutions.

The paper cites the PPWR in stating that 40% of all plastic and 50% of all paper consumption in the EU is attributable to packaging. Over a third of all municipal waste comes from packaging, it is claimed, with single-use packaging designs driving waste generation.

Reportedly, less packaging waste is going to landfills today than twenty years ago, but the figure was still estimated to reach 20% in 2020. Approximately 16% of packaging waste was thought to have been incinerated in the same year. Around 17% of all packaging is now thought to be non-recyclable by design, with the rate of packaging waste recycling in the EU said to have stalled since 2010.

Improvements in recycling have accommodated the growth in packaging use but have failed to decrease it, the statement claims. Therefore, the signatories call for high-performance reuse systems to be developed at scale – allowing packaging to retain its value for longer and separating consumption from the extraction of materials and excessive carbon emissions in the long term.

They argue that recycling alone cannot adequately reduce Europe’s material and carbon footprints to achieve its climate and environmental goals. In the same vein, swapping one single-use material for another is not expected to achieve circularity. Reuse before recycling is foregrounded as an optimal solution, but this comes with a requirement to establish an ‘ambitious, globally differentiated and diversified’ green industrial strategy in Europe due to limited natural resources.

The paper quotes the European Commission’s approximation that 600,000 jobs will be created in the EU economy via the transition into reuse by 2030. In turn, this is anticipated to lower the cost of consumer goods and turn attentions away from the consumption of imported natural resources, instead focusing on growth in green jobs and services within the EU.

As such, the paper approves of the PPWR’s inclusion of reuse targets, but suggests that improvements can still be made to ensure that the transition into reuse is ‘smooth and efficient’.

It calls for clear requirements to be established for reusable packaging designs – indicating a minimum number of reuse cycles to classify a pack as ‘reusable’, for example. Manufacturers and final distributors are both held responsible for the success of reuse systems, with the signatories stating that obligations to offer and take back reusable packaging should be established across the value chain.

Targets should also be applied to both groups, they continue, which includes the expectation that manufacturers meet targets in every Member State they operate in. Similarly, the importance of consumer participation is underlined.

High and long-term targets should be set to encourage the development of, and investment in, reusable packaging systems, the statement says. These should ensure that the reuse market reaches an appropriate size to achieve economies of scale and resultant efficiency benefits, as well as establish a level playing field; it is also claimed that the infrastructure can be shared across sectors and expanded over time.

The statement also encourages transparent reporting. Apparently, this will ensure that the success of a reuse system is reflected upon and its ambitions continue to increase. Additional product categories should also be covered as soon as possible, according to the signatories.

Refillable solutions are underlined as a complementary system to reuse, but the position paper asserts that clear definitions should dictate which models are included under target and minimum criteria metrics and contribute towards targets.

In conclusion, the paper argues that the status quo of packaging use is ‘no longer sufficient’ and encourages Europe to spearhead the industrial pursuit of a circular economy. Reuse is thought to be the key to this shift and the PPWR a catalyst in making meaningful progress towards more sustainable packaging practices.

Earlier this year, the New European Reusable Alliance (New ERA) – a coalition aiming to promote reuse as an alternative to linear models – was formed. It later teamed up with Planet Reuse to form the rEUse campaign, which intends to meet the EU Commission’s mandatory reuse targets by rolling out balanced reuse packaging systems across various sectors.

Furthermore, McDonald’s Corporation is undertaking a report on the pros and cons of a transition into reusable packaging, including its impact on single-use solutions and the environment. Non-profit foundation As You Sow has withdrawn its shareholder proposal with the company in response.

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