Technological watch

Packaging: Council and Parliament strike a deal to make packaging more sustainable and reduce packaging waste in the EU

Today, the Council presidency and the European Parliament’s representatives reached a provisional political agreement on a proposal for a regulation on packaging and packaging waste. The aim is to tackle the increase in packaging waste generated in the EU, while harmonising the internal market for packaging and boosting the circular economy.

The proposal considers the full life-cycle of packaging. It establishes requirements to ensure that packaging is safe and sustainable, by requiring that all packaging is recyclable and that the presence of substances of concern is minimised. It also lays down labelling harmonisation requirements to improve consumer information. In line with the waste hierarchy, the proposal aims to significantly reduce the generation of packaging waste by setting binding re-use targets, restricting certain types of single-use packaging and requiring economic operators to minimise the packaging used.

The deal reached today is provisional, pending formal adoption by both institutions.

Main elements of the agreementSustainability requirements and recycled content in packagingThe text of the provisional agreement maintains most of the sustainability requirements for all packaging placed on the market and the headline targets proposed by the Commission.

It strengthens the requirements for substances in packaging by introducing a restriction on the placing on the market of food contact packaging containing per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) above certain thresholds. To avoid any overlap with other pieces of legislation, the co-legislators tasked the Commission with assessing the need to amend that restriction within four years of the date of application of the regulation.

The provisional agreement maintains the 2030 and 2040 headline targets for minimum recycled content in plastic packaging. The co-legislators agreed to exempt compostable plastic packaging and packaging whose plastic component represents less than 5% of the packaging’s total weight from those targets. The Commission will have to review the implementation of the 2030 targets and assess the feasibility of the 2040 targets. The agreement also calls on the Commission to assess, three years following the entry into force of the regulation, the state of technological development of bio-based plastic packaging and, on the basis of that assessment, to lay down sustainability requirements for bio-based content in plastic packaging.

The new rules would reduce unnecessary packaging by setting a maximum empty space ratio of 50% in grouped, transport and e-commerce packaging, and requiring manufacturers and importers to ensure that the weight and volume of packaging are minimised, except for protected packaging designs (provided that this protection was already in force by the date of entry into force of the regulation).

Re-use targets and re-fill obligationsThe text sets new binding re-use targets for 2030 and indicative targets for 2040. The targets vary depending on the type of packaging used by operators: alcoholic and non?alcoholic beverages (excluding wine and aromatised wines, milk and other highly perishable beverages), transport and sales packaging (excluding packaging used for dangerous goods or large-scale equipment and flexible packaging in direct contact with food) and grouped packaging. Cardboard packaging is also generally exempted from those requirements.

The agreement introduces a general renewable five-year derogation from the attainment of the re-use targets under specific conditions, including that:

  • the exempting member state exceeds by 5 percentage points the recycling targets to be achieved by 2025 and is expected to exceed by 5 percentage points the 2030 recycling  targets
  • the exempting member state is on track to achieve its waste prevention targets
  • the operators have adopted a corporate waste prevention and recycling plans that contribute to achieving the waste prevention and recycling objectives set out in the regulation
The new rules also exempt micro-enterprises from attaining those targets and introduce the possibility for economic operators to form pools of up five final distributors to meet the re-use targets on beverages.

The co-legislators laid down an obligation for take-away businesses to offer customers the possibility of bringing their own containers to be filled with cold or hot beverages or ready-prepared food, at no additional charge. Additionally, by 2030, take-away activities must endeavour to offer 10% of products in packaging formats suitable for re-use.

Deposit return systems (DRS)Under the new rules, by 2029, member states must ensure the separate collection of at least 90% per annum of single-use plastic bottles and metal beverage containers. To achieve that target, they are required to set up deposit return systems (DRSs) for those packaging formats. The minimum requirements for DRS will not apply to systems already in place before the entry into force of the regulation, if the systems in question achieve the 90% target by 2029.

The co-legislators agreed to add an exemption from the requirement to introduce a DRS for member states if they reach a separate collection rate of above 80% in 2026 and if they submit an implementation plan with a strategy for achieving the overarching 90% separate collection target.

Restrictions on certain packaging formatsThe new rules introduce restrictions on certain packaging formats, including single-use plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables, for food and beverages, condiments, sauces within the HORECA sector, for small cosmetic and toiletry products used in the accommodation sector (e.g. shampoo or body lotion bottles), and for very lightweight plastic bags (e.g. those offered at markets for bulk groceries).

Next stepsThe provisional agreement will now be submitted to the member states’ representatives within the Council (Coreper) and to the Parliament’s environment committee for endorsement. If approved, the text will then need to be formally adopted by both institutions, following revision by lawyer-linguists, 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.

BackgroundPackaging production and packaging waste management is an economically complex and important sector, generating a total turnover of €370 billion in the EU. As such, it plays a significant role and has the potential to transform Europe into a clean, sustainable, circular economy, in line with the European Green Deal. However, even though recycling rates have increased in the EU, the amount of waste generated from packaging is growing faster than the amount recycled. Over the past decade, the amount of packaging waste has increased by nearly 25% and is expected to increase by another 19% by 2030 if no action is taken. For plastic packaging waste, the expected increase is 46% by 2030.

The current EU packaging and packaging waste directive was first adopted in 1994 and has been revised several times. It lays down rules for EU member states to ensure that the packaging placed on the EU market meets certain requirements and to adopt measures to prevent and manage packaging waste, in order to achieve recycling targets for different types of packaging waste. However, several assessments of the directive have shown that it has not succeeded in reducing the negative environmental impacts of packaging.

Against this backdrop, in November 2022 the Commission put forward a proposal for a regulation on packaging and packaging waste that would replace the existing directive. The Parliament and Council adopted their positions on the proposed regulation in November and December 2023, respectively. The Parliament’s rapporteur for this file was Frédérique Ries.

More Information

Publication date: 13/03/2024

Author: Marion Kupfer

Bio-based News

This project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union [LIFE17 ENV/ES/000438] Life programme

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Last update: 2022-01-31