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4th Dec 2021

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Time to foster packaging's contribution towards a resource efficient Europe

  • Packaging’s positive contribution to resource efficiency can and should be advanced. (Photo: William Brown)

Packaging is part of the solution for overall sustainability. Across the packaging supply chain efforts will continue to deliver resource efficiency, promoting the transition towards a circular and competitive economy.

These efforts relate to improving packaging's performance and at the same time delivering packaging solutions with a low environmental footprint, across the whole life cycle of packaging (from sourcing over end of life management to the production of secondary raw materials). Over the past two decades much has been achieved, but, as always, challenges remain and new opportunities can be seized.

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  • (Photo: EUROPEN)

Packaging innovation, including environmental improvements are not only market driven, but go hand in hand with the right and relevant regulatory framework. The ongoing EU waste legislation review provides a key opportunity to enable and strengthen the positive contribution of packaging towards resource efficiency through clear, effective and proportionate legislation on packaging and packaging waste.

The European Commission is currently reviewing EU waste legislation, including the EU Packaging & Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) (PPWD), with legislative proposals on revised EU waste management targets expected before summer.

This review – mainly focused on the end of life management of (packaging) waste – is set to contribute to the EU's overarching objectives in transitioning towards a resource efficient, low-carbon and competitive economy.

Packaging's positive contribution to resource efficiency can and should be advanced by ensuring better implementation and enforcement of existing EU Waste legislation in the Member States. In addition, significant market and regulatory changes related to packaging and packaging waste management have occurred in the last two decades, now requiring regulatory updates and legal clarity in the PPWD and Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC).

The PPWD has been – and still is - a successful and effective legislative framework for driving recycling and recovery of all used packaging. Based on official EU data, the EUROPEN in-depth analysis on the evolution of packaging waste recycling and recovery rates shows that between 2000 and 2011, the amount of (non-wood) packaging going to final disposal (landfill) in the 15 oldest Member States fell by 49.5% and that in 2011 in the same countries 65.3% of all packaging was recycled compared to 47.3% in 1998.

The recycling results for the packaging waste stream considerably exceed the 40% recycling rate of general municipal waste in 2011, up from 27% in 2001.

Realistic and achievable targets

However, the analysis also shows substantial disparities in Member States' recycling and recovery rates, explained by differences in implementation deadlines, waste management infrastructure and reprocessing capacity, but also a lack of consistence in the national reporting of packaging recycling and recovery rates to EUROSTAT.

Future EU targets and timelines should therefore be realistic and achievable, taking into account these national specificities, and based on harmonised rules for calculating and reporting packaging and packaging waste data across the Member States.

In order to meet their legal obligations, industry has set up Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) compliance schemes in virtually all Member States, which manage the end-of-life of their packaging. EPR has proven to be a successful policy tool used by Member States to meet packaging recycling and recovery targets set by the PPWD. However, since the PPWD's adoption in 1994, divergent practices are undermining efforts to meet national targets.

In order to drive higher recycling and recovery rates, it will be of key importance to clarify EPR for packaging waste. A clear EU legal framework for EPR in the PPWD will help address current market distortions to ensure a level playing field and fair competition between competing EPR compliance schemes.

This can be done by assigning clear roles and responsibilities for all actors involved in packaging waste management operations (Member States, municipalities, and economic operators), as well as introducing minimum legal performance criteria for all EPR compliance schemes.

The PPWD has proven invaluable in safeguarding the free movement of packaging and packaged goods throughout the EU, while at the same time protecting the environment. It therefore remains the appropriate and effective regulatory framework for driving and accelerating efforts towards greater resource efficiency in a true European Single Market for packaging and packaged goods.

Over the past years, packaging has moved from a negative value to a positive value and resource, amid increasing material costs, better end-of-life solutions for packaging waste management and corporate objectives.

An updated EU regulatory framework, taking into account the above points, will allow packaging and packaging waste management to optimally contribute to deliver resource efficiency with waste finally being recognised and marketed as a valuable resource.

EUROPEN's positions on the EU waste legislation review are available here.

Author bio

Virginia Janssens is the Managing Director of EUROPEN, the European Organization for Packaging and the Environment, an EU industry association presenting the opinion of the packaging supply chain in Europe, without favouring any specific packaging material or system. EUROPEN members represent the packaging supply chain from raw material suppliers, packaging producers to brand owners.

Disclaimer

This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

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