European Union reaches provisional agreement on packaging and packaging waste

The Council and the European Parliament have reached a provisional agreement to reduce packaging waste in the EU. But not on everyone.

The European Council and Parliament have reached a provisional agreement on a proposed regulation concerning packaging and packaging waste. The pact aims not only to make packaging more sustainable but also to foster a circular economy.

What does the agreement specify?

A key aspect of the proposal is its consideration of the entire lifecycle of packaging, aiming to ensure that they are both safe and sustainable. The agreement sets requirements for making all packaging recyclable and minimizing the presence of problematic substances, such as PFAS. According to the European Council’s website, the agreement:

“Strengthens the requirements for substances in packaging by introducing a restriction on the market placement of food contact packaging containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) above certain thresholds.”

Moreover, it mandates harmonized labeling requirements to better inform consumers about packaging characteristics.

The agreement sets binding reuse targets, limits certain types of single-use packaging, and requires economic operators to minimize packaging use. A maximum empty space ratio of 50% in grouped packaging will be set for transport and e-commerce, thereby reducing unnecessary packaging. Additionally, producers and importers must ensure that the weight and volume of packaging are minimized.

The 2030 and 2040 targets for minimum recycled content in plastic packaging have been confirmed, with exemptions for compostable packaging and those with less than 5% plastic components.

The agreement introduces new binding reuse targets by 2030 and indicative targets by 2040, varying by packaging type. It also allows for exemptions for member states that exceed recycling and waste prevention targets.

A significant part of the agreement concerns Deposit Return Systems (DRS) which, by 2029, must ensure the separate collection of 90% of single-use plastic bottles and metal beverage containers. Member states achieving 90% separate collection before 2029 are exempt from the DRS requirement.

Which packaging will be banned

The European Council specifies that:

“The new rules introduce restrictions on certain packaging formats, including single-use plastic packaging for fruits and vegetables, food and beverages, condiments, sauces in the HORECA sector, small cosmetic and courtesy products used in the hospitality sector (e.g., shampoo or body lotion bottles) and very light plastic bags (for example, those offered at bulk grocery markets).”

Effectively, from 2030, certain formats of single-use plastic packaging will be banned:

  • Ultra-light plastic bags (under 15 microns)
  • Single-use containers for fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables
  • Food and beverage packaging filled and consumed in bars and restaurants
  • Individual portions (such as condiments, sauces, cream, sugar)
  • Miniature toiletry products and samples provided in hotels

However, ready-to-eat bagged salads and takeaway packaging are excluded from the ban.

Additionally, the agreement stipulates that final distributors of drinks and food for out-of-home consumption must offer customers the option to use their containers.

The provisional agreement will now be submitted for approval to the member states’ representatives and the Parliament’s environment committee, before being formally adopted and published in the Official Journal of the EU. If approved, it will come into force 18 months after the formal adoption date.

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