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Over 1,700 companies in the European reusable and refillable packaging industry have backed the draft General Approach of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation proposed in Spain, especially its reuse and refill targets and restrictions on the single-use packaging market.

Eight signatories – New European Reuse Alliance, B Lab France, Roundtable for Reusable Containers Trays and Pallets, Pro Mehrweg, Reusable Packaging Europe, Mehrweg Verband, Réseau Vrac et Réemploi, and the Porto Protocol Foundation – are honing in on Articles 22 and 26 of the General Approach. These deal with market restrictions for single-use packaging and reuse and refill targets, respectively.

In its current form, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation is said to be ‘full of derogations and reduced aspirations’ and is described as an ‘insufficient response’ to the annual 189kg of waste generated per EU citizen.

According to the companies, implementing ambitious reuse targets will benefit Europe in achieving a global advantage as a ‘driver of the circular economy’. Its environmental benefits will apparently be backed up with ‘massive economic value’ achieved as it exports its waste management solutions across the world.

Economic opportunities will reportedly be unlocked for European businesses as dependence on global supply chains decreases and local economies are supported. This is expected to cut down on inventory and waste management costs, increase energy savings, and reduce price sensitivity in relation to rising resource costs.

Dr. Tim Breker, managing director at reusable takeaway packaging provider Vytal Global, comments: “Vytal operates in Germany, which we consider to be the most developed market for reuse in the takeaway sector. In the last four years we have grown to become the world’s largest digital reuse solution in the takeaway industry with more than 7,000 B2B-partner locations and more than 550,000 registered users.

“Thanks to our own tech platform, more than 7.8 million single-use containers were replaced by Vytal customers. With a 99% return rate and an average return time of less than 5 days, Vytal reduces packaging costs for the foodservice industry and proves the effectiveness of reusable packaging.

Based on our success so far, local entrepreneurs from Ireland, Sweden, Luxembourg and other countries are now implementing Vytal’s reusable system across Europe as Vytal franchisees. With support of the German GIZ, Vytal is even being exported to Latin America.”

Biocoop is France’s leading specialist retailer of organic food and products with more than 740 shops and a turnover of 1.5 billion euros in 2022,” explains president Tanguy Le Gall. “Since we were founded in 1986, we’ve strived to market our products with the least environmental impact and with a minimum of single-use packaging.

“As proof of our commitment, refill stations have been available at our shops since we opened, and we completely stopped selling single-use plastic water bottles in all our shops in 2017.

“Refill and reuse now account for more than 1/3 of our turnover and 50% of our sales volumes. This is clear proof that the move away from single-use packaging is making progress and is not in contradiction with the goals of business, but is simply helping it to evolve.”

Furthermore, the European Commission predicts that an increase in reuse systems could create 600,000 jobs by 2030, with beverage reuse systems already thought to employ 150,000 people in Germany. The signatories encourage policymakers to approve legislation that would create a level playing field with single-use packaging – thus encouraging investment into reuse and refill business models and encouraging developments in design, labelling, traceability, transport, sorting, and cleaning for reusable packaging.

“Since the 1st of January 2023, France has made reusable tableware compulsory for onsite consumption in fast-food restaurants,” says Charlotte Gibaud, purchase and product development director at fast food chain Bioburger. “It’s a technical challenge that we’re delighted to have met in all our restaurants.

“Since the launch, the results are highly satisfactory: strong consumer support, a positive reorganization of the way we serve, and a deep satisfaction among our teams that gives meaning to their efforts.

“Our experience proves that this challenge is not only feasible, but also ecologically and professionally beneficial as it enables us to build customer loyalty. We’re not going backwards.”

Marta Mendonca, manager at the Porto Protocol Foundation, adds: “Wineries have experienced climate change, glass scarcity and increased costs of production.

“Legislation to support the reuse of glass bottles, winegrowers’ container of choice, will provide a myriad of benefits to mitigate this combination of pitfalls: cost savings, increased operational efficiency and waste reduction, allowing wineries to rely less on single-use bottles and reduce its vulnerability to disruptions in the supply chain related to packaging materials. It can contribute to the conservation of raw materials like sand, a finite and highly exploited resource.

“Ultimately, it can build on the long-term sustainability and resilience of the industry.”

Reloop, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Zero Waste Europe, and TOMRA are among the signatories of a position paper with a similarly hopeful perspective on reuse and refill solutions – as well as a critical view of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation. The companies claim that improvements in recycling technologies are keeping up with rising packaging use but are doing nothing to decrease it.

It recommends prioritizing reuse over recycling, but adds that an ‘ambitious, globally differentiated and diversified’ green strategy must come first. In their view, this involves scaling up high-perfomance reuse systems and establishing clear requirements for reusable packaging designs, e.g. enforcing a minimum number of reuse cycles for a pack to be classified as ‘reusable’.

On the other hand, another joint letter signed by UNESDA criticizes the updated Regulation for preventing packaging organizations from opting into single-use packaging over reusables, even if the transition would improve waste management or benefit the environment as per a life cycle assessment.

As such, its signatories suggest that proposals that increase targets under Article 26 should be rejected, and that plenary amendments facilitating the complementarity of reusable and single-use recyclable packaging should be embraced.

Mixed opinions also stemmed from the European Parliament’s new position on the Regulation. EUROPEN praised the new measures for phasing out ‘arbitrary’ reuse targets that reportedly lacked any scientific basis, and FEFCO praised them for embracing a symbiotic relationship between recycling and reuse.

Nevertheless, Zero Waste Europe was apprehensive that ‘the new derogations in Articles 22 and 26 question the whole foundation of EU waste law, namely the waste hierarchy’.

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