Carton Manufacturers Against Reusable Quotas
7/20/2023 Sustainability New Paths Design Start-ups Article

Carton Manufacturers Against Reusable Quotas

More vehicle emissions, more water consumption, more costs: Pro Carton, European association of cartonboard and folding carton manufacturers, criticizes the EU Commission's blanket preference for reusable solutions in the planned Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). Fossil-based reusable solutions end up being more expensive than natural single-use paper packaging, they say.

The fiber-based and renewable packaging materials paper, corrugated board and cardboard are an environmentally friendly packaging material, as demonstrated at FACHPACK 2022. The fiber-based and renewable packaging materials paper, corrugated board and cardboard are an environmentally friendly packaging material, as demonstrated at FACHPACK 2022.

The planned PPWR regulation is known to be controversial. The paper and cardboard industry sees itself at a disadvantage and is providing new figures to get its voice heard in Brussels. When Pro Carton Director General Horst Bittermann talks about the PPWR regulation, he sometimes refers to “a few fundamentalists” who would ignore the real economy and consumers. Without a doubt, he also emphasizes, Pro Carton supports the goal of a functioning circular economy for packaging as well as the planned harmonization of the internal EU market. However, there are currently differing views on the ways to achieve this goal.

Among other things, the EU wants to reduce the volume of packaging by introducing a reusable quota for e-commerce packaging, for to-go packaging and certain forms of transport packaging.

According to Bittermann, the fiber-based and renewable packaging materials paper, corrugated board, and cardboard are already environmentally friendly packaging materials and prime examples of a circular economy that has been functioning for decades, as they are already characterized by high recycling rates, which in Austria are about 85 percent.

New Study: Transport Costs on the Rise

The association relies on a recent McKinsey study, the findings of which are as follows: compared to single-use alternatives, the introduction of reusable packaging in the online trade of non-food products in Germany leads to an increase in C02 emissions of 10 to 40 percent. Costs also increase by more than 50 percent – depending on the packaging material.

Making every tenth parcel reusable would lead to additional costs of around 30 million euros for the entire market in Germany, the study continues. For parcels reaching 20 turns, transport is likely to account for more than 75 percent of costs and more than 65 percent of C02 emissions.

According to Bittermann, the argument against the mandatory introduction of reusable packaging is that long transport routes are necessary, and the logistics for this are not established. Complex cleaning processes, especially for food packaging, also lead to unnecessarily high water consumption and a hygiene problem. Lower circulation figures would still have to be expected, because not every consumer would end up returning the pizza packaging, for example. This could therefore also have negative consequences for the environmental impact of reusable packaging.

“Those options with the lowest environmental impact and the lowest cost for consumers should be promoted and supported. Therefore, we believe blanket reusable quotas are the wrong way to go. If they are nevertheless adhered to, PPK packaging should be consistently excluded from the regulatory regime of the reusable quotas in Article 26 of the PPWR in view of its actual positive environmental impact,” says Pro Carton. Bittermann is missing from Brussels that, so far, no scientific evidence for the advantages of a reusable system has been presented. He says this is not just about the environmental advantages and disadvantages of packaging, but also about food, “protecting it and wasting food, if these products are not adequately protected by packaging.”

“The ecological impact of food wastage is many times higher than that of protective packaging,” he contends. What counts, he says, is the smallest possible ecological footprint with the best possible functionality of the packaging throughout its life cycle.

Bittermann sees the fact that reusable packaging is also to be introduced for the transport of large electrical appliances in 2030 as a logistical problem. Packaging for a refrigerator could not be adapted later for vacuum cleaners, hesays. “There is also a lack of storage space for billions of reusable packages, which would be necessary.” The current draft also says that from 2040 onward, at least 50 percent of all transport packaging in online retail should already be reusable.

Corrugated Board Industry Warns

In a new study commissioned by the Verband der Wellpappen-Industrie e.V. (VDW), the Gesellschaft für Verpackungsmarktforschung (GVM) also concludes that the sweeping targets for extensive use of reusable packaging do not achieve their goals. “Eleven percent more plastic consumption, 200 percent more transport kilometers, 80 percent more storage space, and up to 400 percent higher costs for packaging materials. These are among the consequences that threaten to occur in 2040, if the Packaging Regulation is adopted in the form proposed by the European Commission,” warns VDW Chairman Dr. Steffen P. Würth, citing the GVM study.