EU Council and EU Parliament agree provisional deal for more sustainable packaging & less waste

The EU Council presidency and European Parliament representatives have announced a provisional political agreement on a proposal for regulation on packaging and packaging waste. The stated aim is to tackle the increase in packaging waste generated in the EU while, at the same time, harmonising the internal market for packaging and boosting the circular economy.

Packaging production and waste management generates a total turnover of € 370 bn in the EU. The current Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive was first adopted in 1994 and has been revised several times but, over the past decade, the total amount of waste has increased by nearly 25% and is expected to rise another 19% by 2030 if no action is taken. The expected increase in plastic packaging waste is 46% by 2030.

The proposal extends across the full lifecycle of packaging. It establishes requirements to ensure safety and sustainability, requires that all packaging is recyclable and that the presence of substances of concern is minimised. It lays down labelling harmonisation requirements to improve consumer information.

Sustainability and recycled content

The provisional agreement introduces a restriction of food contact packaging containing per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) above certain thresholds. It maintains the 2030 and 2040 headline targets for minimum recycled content in plastic packaging. Compostable plastic packaging and packaging whose plastic component represents less than five per cent of total weight are to be exempt from those targets. The Commission is required to review the implementation of the 2030 targets, to assess the 2040 targets’ feasibility as well as, three years after the entry into force of the regulation, the state of development of bio-based plastic packaging and to lay down sustainability requirements for bio-based content in plastic packaging. The new rules would set a maximum empty space ratio of 50% in grouped, transport and e-commerce packaging.

Re-use and re-fill

Reuse targets will be binding for 2030 and indicative for 2040 but vary depending on the type of packaging used by operators. Cardboard is generally exempted. The new rules also exempt micro-enterprises and open the opportunity for economic operators to form pools of up five final distributors to meet beverages re-use targets. The agreement introduces a general renewable five-year derogation from the re-use targets under specific conditions, detailed in the text.

Take-away businesses are to be obliged to offer customers the choice to bring their own containers to be filled with cold or hot beverages or ready-prepared food, at no additional charge. By 2030, take-away businesses must endeavour to offer 10% of products in packaging formats suitable for re-use.

Deposit return systems (DRS)

By 2029, member states must ensure the separate collection of at least 90% per annum of single-use plastic bottles and metal beverage containers and are required to set up DRSs for them. States will be exempt if they reach a separate collection rate above 80% in 2026 and submit an implementation plan for achieving 90%.

Restrictions on certain packaging formats

There will be restrictions on certain packaging formats, such as fruit and vegetables, food and beverages, condiments, sauces within the HORECA sector, for small cosmetic and toiletry products used in hospitality, and for very lightweight plastic bags (e.g. those offered at markets for bulk groceries).

Next steps

The proposal will be submitted to the member states’ representatives within the Council (Coreper) and to the Parliament’s environment committee. If approved, the text will then need to be formally adopted by both institutions, following revision by lawyer-linguists, before it can be published in the EU’s Official Journal and enter into force.