Praise And Criticism of the New EU Packaging Regulation
Politics is not giving the packaging industry a break. A year ago, the EU Commission presented a new regulation for packaging, and in spring there was a draft for a German regulation. Now the European Parliament has passed an amendment based on the Commission’s proposal.
The next European elections are scheduled for June 2024, and the EU Parliament and Commission want to adopt as many new regulations and rules as possible before then. The Green Deal, which includes reducing the volume of waste, is particularly important for packaging, among other things. The starting points are increasing recycling rates and the proportion of reusable products. Parliamentarians have now revised the Commission’s draft for the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), changing and weakening some elements. In the version finally adopted by a majority, the most important objectives are less packaging, restrictions on certain types of packaging. and a ban on the use of “forever chemicals” (perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl substances). The amount of packaging is to be reduced by five percent by 2030, ten percent by 2035, and finally 15 percent by 2040, with plastic packaging falling by ten percent (2030), 15 percent (2025), and 20 percent (2040).
The planned measures include a ban on the sale of plastic carrier bags with a thickness of less than 15 micrometers; exceptions are provided for hygienic reasons or for primary packaging of loose food. In the catering sector, customers will be able to use their own containers to take away food and drinks. By 2029, 90 percent of the materials contained in packaging should be collected separately. Reuse targets and the ban on unnecessary packaging have been removed from the regulation.
Fewer Bans as a Plus Point
The heterogeneity of the packaging industry is clearly reflected in the mixed reactions to the amendment. The Working Group on Packaging and the Environment (AGVU) welcomes the lower proportion of bans on specific packaging formats. There were more suitable instruments, such as mandatory minimization targets and national reduction targets for packaging waste, to reduce the amount of packaging. One drawback was the lack of definitive criteria for recyclability.
The IK Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen classifies the decisions as short-sighted and warns against replacing too much plastic packaging. Replacing ten percent of this packaging with alternative materials would increase emissions by ten to 14 percent. The amount of packaging waste could be ten to 20 percent higher if this were implemented. The ecological targets could be undermined by special reduction targets for plastic packaging or the exemption of composite packaging from the recyclate use quotas. The extended special rules would jeopardize the transformation towards less packaging waste, more recyclable packaging, and greater use of recyclates, explains IK Managing Director Dr. Martin Engelmann. In contrast, the German Association of Wooden Packaging, Pallets, and Export Packaging (HPE) criticizes the PPWR’s excessive focus on plastic products. There was a “one-size-fits-all” approach in which plastic and the sustainable raw material wood were lumped together. However, the properties of wood and the contributions of wooden packaging to the circular economy were not taken into account.
Mechanical Engineering Fears Decline in Investment
The VDMA Food Processing and Packaging Machinery Association sees a different deficit in the PPWR, as it was leading to a reluctance to invest. They have already fallen by twelve percent in Germany between January and September 2023, explains Managing Director Richard Clemens. The EU is pursuing the right goals, but there is a lack of complete harmonization, and the patchwork of specific national regulations continues to exist. According to the German Packaging Institute (dvi), however, the PPWR points the way to achieving them. The requirements for the entire life cycle make it a “milestone”. However, to ensure the integrity of the internal market, improvements need to be made to the harmonization of sustainability and waste management requirements. Europe needs a Europe-wide infrastructure for reuse and recycling and a definition of “recycling in practice”, they say.
Corrugated Board Industry Satisfied
The representatives of the paper and corrugated board industry are satisfied. The regulation shows that the established system of recycling paper, cardboard, and cartonboard offers ecological advantages. It is considered to be equivalent to reusable packaging, they say. The German Association of the Corrugated Board Industry (VDW) considers the parliamentary resolution to be “trend-setting”. The potential of fiber-based packaging for the circular economy could now also be exploited in the future.