European Green Deal: End packaging waste, support reuse and recycling


The European Commission is proposing new EU-wide packaging rules to address this ever-growing source of waste and consumer frustration. On average, each European produces almost 180 kg of packaging waste per year. It's time to take steps to reduce or even eliminate unnecessary, non-recyclable packaging.

Packaging is one of the main uses of virgin raw materials, as 40% of plastics and 50 percent. of paper used in the EU is for packaging. Without additional action, the EU would see a further 19% increase in packaging waste. by 2030, and in the case of plastic packaging waste by up to 46%.

Goods must be packaged to protect them and transport them safely, but packaging and packaging waste have a significant impact on the environment and the use of virgin raw materials. Packaging waste is growing, often at a faster rate than GDP. Packaging waste has increased by more than 20% in the EU over the last 10 years. and is projected to increase by a further 19% by 2030 if no action is taken.

Bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics appear in our daily lives as an alternative to conventional plastics. Citizens can find them, for example, in packaging, consumer goods and textiles, as well as in other sectors. Because they are called "bio", consumers get the impression that they are necessarily good for the environment. However, this is only true to an extent.

The proposed package on these issues follows on from the first circular economy package adopted in March 2022. It takes into account the new Ecodesign Regulation for Sustainable Products, the EU Strategy for Circular Sustainable Textiles and proposes new measures to empowering consumers and enabling them to play a fuller role in the green transition.

Reduction and elimination of waste
The new regulations aim to stop this trend. From a consumer perspective, they will provide reusability of packaging, eliminate redundant packaging, reduce overpackaging and provide understandable labeling to support proper recycling. They will create new business opportunities for industry, especially for small businesses, reduce the need for primary raw materials, increase Europe's recycling capacity and make Europe less dependent on primary raw materials and external suppliers. Thanks to them, the packaging sector will be on track to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

The EC is also providing clarity to consumers and industry on bio-based, compostable and biodegradable plastics: it defines what uses such plastics are really good for the environment, and how they should be designed, disposed of and recycled.

These proposals are key elements of the European Green Deal's Circular Economy Action Plan and its goal of making sustainable products the norm. They also respond to the specific demands of Europeans expressed during the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Three main goals
The proposed revision of EU rules on packaging and packaging waste has three main objectives. First: preventing the production of packaging waste: reducing waste, limiting unnecessary packaging and promoting reusable and refillable packaging solutions. Second: improving the quality of recycling ("closed loop"), making all packaging on the EU market recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030. Third: reducing the need for primary natural resources and creating a well-functioning secondary raw materials market by increasing the use of recycled plastics in packaging by imposing mandatory targets.

The main goal is to reduce packaging waste by 15% by 2040. per capita in each Member State, compared to 2018. This would lead to an overall reduction of almost 37% of waste in the EU. compared to the scenario without changing the rules. This will be done through both reuse and recycling.

To support the reuse or refilling of packaging, which has declined sharply over the last 20 years, companies will need to offer consumers a certain proportion of their products in reusable or refillable packaging, e.g. for takeaway beverages and meals or e-commerce. There will also be some standardization of packaging formats and clear labeling of reusable packaging.

In order to decisively address the issue of redundant packaging, certain forms of packaging will be banned, such as single-use packaging used to serve food and beverages consumed in restaurants and cafes, single-use packaging for fruit and vegetables, miniature shampoo bottles and other miniature packaging in hotels.

Recycling rules
Many measures aim to make packaging fully recyclable by 2030. This includes setting criteria for packaging design, creating mandatory deposit-return schemes for plastic bottles and aluminum cans, and clarifying which very limited types of packaging must be compostable for consumers to dispose of in bio-waste .

There will also be mandatory indicators for recycled content that manufacturers must include in new plastic packaging. This will help turn recycled plastic into a valuable raw material, as already demonstrated by the example of PET bottles in the context of the Single-Use Plastics Directive.

The proposal will clear up any doubts about which recycling bin to put the packaging in. Each package will have a label indicating what the packaging is made of and which waste stream it should be disposed of in. The waste collection containers will bear the same labels. The same symbols will be used throughout the EU.

Reduction of gas emissions
By 2030, the proposed measures could reduce packaging GHG emissions to 43 million tonnes, down from 66 million tonnes, if the legislation is not changed, the reduction reaching roughly Croatia's annual emissions. Water consumption could be reduced by 1.1 million m3. The cost of environmental damage to the economy and society would be reduced by €6.4 billion compared to the 2030 baseline.

The single-use packaging industry will need to invest in transformation, but the overall impact on the economy and job creation in the EU will be positive. Increasing reuse alone is expected to create more than 600,000 jobs in the recycling sector by 2030, many in local small and medium-sized enterprises.

Many packaging innovations are expected, which will make it convenient to reduce the use of packaging and reuse and recycle it. These measures are also expected to generate financial savings: every European could save almost €100 a year if businesses shifted savings to consumers.

Biodegradable and compostable plastics
The use and production of bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics is steadily increasing. Many conditions must be met for these plastics to have a positive impact on the environment, rather than exacerbating plastic pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss. The Commission's new legal framework clarifies how these plastics can be part of a sustainable future.

Biomass used for the production of bio-based plastics must be obtained in a sustainable manner, without harming the environment and in accordance with the principle of cascading use of biomass. Producers should prioritize the use of organic waste and by-products as input materials. In addition, to combat green marketing and to avoid misleading consumers, manufacturers must avoid generic statements about plastic products such as "bioplastics" and "bio-based". When stating the bio-based content, manufacturers should refer to the exact and measurable proportion of bio-based plastics in the product (e.g. "the product contains 50% bio-based plastics").

Be careful with biodegradable plastics. They have a place in a sustainable future, but they need to be geared towards specific applications where their environmental benefits and circular economy value have been proven. Biodegradable plastics should in no way constitute a littering permit. In addition, they must bear a label indicating how long they will take to biodegrade, under what circumstances and in what environment. Products that are most likely to end up in the trash, including those covered by the Single Use Plastics Directive, cannot be considered or labeled as biodegradable.

Industrially compostable plastics should only be used if they provide environmental benefits, do not adversely affect the quality of the compost, and if there is an appropriate collection and treatment system for bio-waste. Industrially compostable packaging will only be allowed for tea bags, coffee capsules and sachets, fruit and vegetable stickers and very lightweight plastic bags. These products must always state that they are certified for industrial composting in accordance with EU standards.

Further steps
The proposal on packaging and packaging waste will now be dealt with by the European Parliament and the Council under the ordinary legislative procedure. The policy framework on bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics will guide future EU work in this field, such as ecodesign requirements for sustainable products, funding schemes and international discussions. The Commission encourages citizens, public authorities and businesses to use this framework when making policy, investment or purchasing decisions.