EU Tackles Packaging Waste Mountain

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    Stockholm (NordSIP) – The European Union (EU) moved a step closer towards tackling the 80 million tonnes of packaging waste it generates each year, with a provisional agreement reached by the EU Council and European parliament on Monday 4 March 2024 on the proposed Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR).  The rules, which are due to be phased in over the coming years with milestones in 2030 and 2040, will have the greatest impact on companies in the food and hospitality sectors.  The overall aim is to reduce the amount of packaging companies produce and use, while improve the sustainability criteria for the remainder.

    Harmful chemicals due to be banned

    With increasing concern over the chemicals used in the plastics industry and their effect on human health and the natural environment, the regulation aims to minimise the presence of ‘substances of concern’ in food packaging.  These include per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs), which will be prohibited above specified thresholds.  Plastic packaging will also have to conform to previously agreed 2030 and 2040 targets for minimum recycled content.  This target is due to be periodically updated as advances in bio-based plastic technology occur.  In an effort to reduce the burden on waste management infrastructure, the PPWR targets unnecessary packaging by setting a maximum empty space ratio of 50% in most circumstances.

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    Under the new proposals, larger companies will have to comply with new binding re-use targets affecting non-cardboard based packaging used for transport and sales.  Some flexibility will be allowed for members states that are otherwise ahead of their waste prevention targets.  The PPWR also calls for the introduction of Deposit Return Systems (DRS), with the specific goal of achieving minimum 90% collection rates for single-use plastic bottles and metal beverage containers by 2029.  Many commonly employed types of single-use packaging are expected to disappear under the new rules.  These include plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables, small sachets and bottles typically used in catering, the cosmetics trade, and hotel accommodation.

    Rules not strong enough say NGOs

    The PPWR has been the subject of intense lobbying from industry associations in sectors either producing or extensively using single-use packaging.  While non-governmental organisation Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) welcomed the ban on PFASs, it expressed serious misgivings about the exemptions applied to paper-based and composite packaging due to ongoing doubts about the effective recycling rates for these materials.  Moreover, ZWE expresses concerns about the applicability of the agreed ban on the incineration and landfilling of recyclable packaging, pointing to a lack of clarity regarding the treatment of mixed or separately collected waste.  Finally, the NGO expressed disappointment that in its view legislators had succumbed to pressure from the fast-food industry to water down re-use requirements for takeaway outlets.

    Commenting on the PPWR announcement, Larissa Copello, Packaging & Reuse Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe, said: “It’s unsettling how the paper-based packaging lobbyists managed to get a ‘free-ride’ in the PPWR by escaping from market restrictions and some of the reuse targets at the expense of the environment and the public interest.  When it comes time to implementing the PPWR, we hope it won’t lead to regrettable material substitution, and instead encourage real packaging waste reduction through well-designed reuse systems.”

    Further concerns have been raised about the exemption applied to so-called compostable or biodegradable plastics.  The environmental credentials of such materials are still open to question, with doubts about the stated degradation timeframes and genuine compostability of this type of packaging.

    Implementation timeframe

    The provisional agreement on the PPWR is being referred for endorsement by the member states’ representatives within the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) and the EU Parliament’s environment committee.  Once approved, the PPWR text will need to be formally adopted by both EU legislative institutions before it can be published in the EU’s Official Journal and enter into force. The regulation will be applied from 18 months after the date of entry into force.

    Image courtesy of The blowup on Unsplash / edits: NordSIP
    Richard Tyszkiewicz
    Richard Tyszkiewicz
    Richard has over 30 years’ experience in the international investment industry. He has worked closely with major Nordic investors on consultancy projects, focusing on the evaluation of external asset managers. While doing so, Richard built up a strong practical understanding of the challenges faced by institutional investors seeking to integrate ESG into their portfolios. Richard has an MA degree in Management and Spanish from St Andrews University, and sustainability qualifications from Cambridge University, PRI and the CFA Institute.
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