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EU Commission wants all packaging fully recyclable by 2030

The European Commission yesterday proposed new targets for reuse and recycling to tackle rising amounts of packaging waste in the EU. The new regulations would ensure reusable packaging options, remove unnecessary packaging, limit over-packaging, and provide clear labels to support correct recycling for consumers.

On average, each European generates almost 180 kg of packaging waste per year. Packaging is one of the main users of virgin materials as 40 per cent of plastics and 50 per cent of paper used in the EU is destined for packaging. Without legislative action, the EU would see a further 19 per cent increase in packaging waste by 2030, and for plastic packaging waste even a 46 per cent increase, informs the EU executive.

“After tackling single-use plastics, we now take the next step on our way to a future without pollution,” said Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal highlighting that the Commission’s proposal aims to reduce packaging waste, promote reuse and refill, increase the use of recycled plastics, and make it easier to recycle packaging.

“European citizens are eager to be rid of over-packaging and unnecessarily bulky packages, and businesses are ready to move forward with sustainable, innovative packaging solutions and systems” said Mr Timmermans

“We also clear up confusing claims around bio-based and biodegradable plastics, so that producers and consumers know under which conditions such plastics are truly environment-friendly and contribute to a green and circular economy,” he added.

For the industry, they would decrease the need for virgin materials, boosting Europe’s recycling capacity as well as making Europe less dependent on primary resources and external suppliers.

In addition, the proposal provides a framework setting out the environmental value of specific plastic applications and guidance on they should be designed, disposed of and recycled.

The proposed rules contribute to the European Green Deal’s Circular Economy Action Plan, and aim to respond to specific demands expressed by the participants of the Conference on the Future of Europe. 

Unpacking the proposal

The proposed rules have three main objectives. First, to prevent the generation of packaging waste by restricting unnecessary packaging and promoting reusable/refillable packaging. Second: to boost high-quality (‘closed loop’) recycling, making all EU packaging recyclable in an ‘economically viable’ way by 2030. Third: to reduce the need for primary natural resources and create a ‘well-functioning market’ for secondary raw materials, increasing the use of recycled plastics in packaging through mandatory targets.

To achieve these objectives, the Commission proposes a new set of changes and measures for Member States and businesses in the bloc.

  • The headline target is to reduce packaging waste by 15 per cent by 2040 per Member State per capita, compared to 2018. This would lead to an overall waste reduction in the EU of some 37 per cent compared to a scenario without changing the legislation. It would happen through both reuse and recycling.
  • To foster reuse or refill of packaging, companies would have to offer a certain percentage of their products to consumers in reusable or refillable packaging, such as takeaway drinks and meals or e-commerce deliveries. Additionally, there would be some standardisation of packaging formats and clear labelling of reusable packaging.
  • To address clearly unnecessary packaging, certain forms of packaging would be banned. For example, single-use packaging for food and beverages in restaurants and cafes, single-use packaging for fruits and vegetables, miniature shampoo bottles and other miniature packaging in hotels.  
  • To make packaging fully recyclable by 2030, a design criteria would be set for packaging, mandatory deposit return systems for plastic bottles and aluminium cans would be created, and clarification would be provided on which very limited types of packaging must be compostable, accelerating bio-waste recycling for consumers.
  • There would also be mandatory rates of recycled content that producers have to include in new plastic packaging. This will help turn recycled plastic into a valuable raw material – as already shown by the example of PET bottles in the context of the Single-Use Plastics Directive.

Moreover, the proposal aims to simplify rules on EU packaging recycling. Every piece of packaging and waste collection containers would carry a label showing what the packaging composition and the appropriate waste stream.

According to the Commission, by 2030, the proposed measures would bring greenhouse gas emissions from packaging down to 43 million tonnes, compared to 66 million if the legislation is not changed. Water use would also be reduced by 1.1 million cubic meters. The costs of environmental damage for the economy and society would be reduced by 6.4 billion euros relative to the baseline 2030.

Single-use packaging industries would have to invest in a transition, however, the Commission believes that ‘the overall economic and job creation impact in the EU is positive’. Boosting reuse is expected to lead to more than 600,000 jobs in the reuse sector by 2030, many of them in small and medium-sized companies.

The Commission also ‘expects’ innovation in packaging that would make it convenient to reduce, reuse and recycle. The measures are also expected to save each European almost 100 euros per year, should businesses translate savings to consumers.

The package addressing these issues follows the Commission’s first Circular Economy package of measures adopted in March aimed to empower consumers and enable them to play a fuller role in the green transition. The proposal on packaging and packaging waste will now be considered by the European Parliament and the Council.

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