The problem of packaging waste needs more attention. Photo credit: © Joaquin Corbalan - stock.adobe.com
The European Green Deal, proposed in 2020, encompasses a series of suggestions to reach climate neutrality by 2050. Recently, it has been on the negotiating table during the recently concluded COP27 in Egypt, where the topic of green hydrogen was primarily discussed.
Green hydrogen is only a fragment of the circular economy plan launched by the EU within the Green Deal. The Circular Economy (CE) plan was addressed to all member states to become an integral part of their economies. The European Parliament defines a Circular Economy as a “model of production and consumption that involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. In this way, the life cycle of products is extended.”
Without a doubt, one of the most pressing issues that require immediate attention is packaging waste and the problem of supplies and scarcity of primary materials.
The importance of packaging waste was recognized by the European Parliament as far back as December 20, 1994, the year when the directive on packaging and packaging waste was issued. Back then, it was already evident what the goal of this new instrument was: “the reduction of waste is essential for the sustainable growth specifically called for by the Treaty on European Union. It should cover all types of packaging placed on the market and all packaging waste.”
This directive was successfully amended throughout the year to provide lists of packaging examples, support the decrease in portable plastic bag consumption, clarify the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), and set new rules concerning the reuse and recycling targets for the EU members.
On November 30, 2022, the European Commission deemed it necessary to intervene again on the packaging waste issue, especially on the concepts of reuse and recycling.
The new measure aims to reverse the increasing and dangerous trend of packaging waste generation in the EU. The European Commission believes that if no prompt action is taken, by 2030, the packaging waste rate will increase by 19 percent and the plastic one by 46 percent.
Accordingly, three are the main goals set by the new intervention. The first aim is to generate packaging waste and promote new techniques to boost reuse and refill practices. The second aims to make all packages recyclable by 2030, while the third considers the importance of secondary raw materials over primary ones by boosting the use of recycled plastics.
These new targets are addressed to both consumers and producers. Consumers will be given reusable packaging options that aim to limit the unnecessary use of packaging and the overconsumption thereof. Clear and understandable labels are also contemplated to increase consumers’ sensibility. The industry would benefit from the decrease in packaging waste as they would boost their recycling activities and save on the supply of primary materials.
Reusable packaging will be applied to specific categories with particular targets. Translated into numbers, as reported by Euractiv, the targets to be reached by 2040 are: 80 percent for hot and cold beverages; 40 percent for takeaway food; 25 percent for alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks; and 50 percent for e-commerce delivery.
While environmental organizations like Zero Waste Europe welcomed the new measure as an opportunity to save energy through reusing, the same cannot be said for the industry. As reported by Politico, the HOTREC, the association of hotels, restaurants, bars, and cafes, which the new measure is mainly addressed to, expressed its concerns about the ambitious targets. The association argues that banning single-use packaging would entail additional costs associated with cleaning the reusable packages, particularly water and electricity.
UNESDA Soft Drinks is another organization that has criticized the new proposal. This trade association maintains, among others, that the new directive needs to consider the heterogeneity of the beverage supplier sector in Europe and the differences in consumption among the EU members. This will seriously impact how EU recycling funds will be employed.
Despite the industry's adverse reactions, which inevitably read the new changes through the lens of economic profit, there is no doubt that the new proposal is an ambitious attempt to combat climate change and environmental degradation.
This is stated clearly in the November 30 text: “reduce negative environmental impacts of packaging and packaging waste and improve the functioning of the internal market, thus boosting efficiency gains in the sector. The aim is to create a resilient value chain, starting from the design of the packaging till its re-use or - integration in high-quality products, thus creating innovative, “green” jobs in a low carbon packaging industry.“
The proposal's future is now in the hands of the European Parliament and the Council, which will handle the situation according to established procedures.
Edited by: Lou Igounet
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