The European Commission on Wednesday (30 November) tabled proposals to tackle rising amounts of packaging waste in the EU by introducing new targets for reuse and recycling.
The amount of packaging waste produced in Europe has soared since the mid-2000s and is on track to keep growing by 2030, according to the EU executive.
“The need for change is obvious,” said Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, explaining that, in 2020, 35 % of packaging waste equalling nearly 30 million tonnes went to landfill, was incinerated or ended up in the environment.
“If we don’t stop these trends, the volume of plastic waste could increase by 46% by 2030. So clearly we need a systemic change,” he added.
To reverse the trend, the European Commission has tabled a far-reaching overhaul of the EU’s packaging and packaging waste legislation, with the aim to have all packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030.
The first major change is that the law will now be a regulation rather than a directive. This should create more harmonisation across Europe and is widely welcomed by industry and campaigners.
Alongside this, the proposal introduces a range of new measures, including waste reduction, reuse and recycled content targets as well as design for recycling criteria, mandatory deposit return schemes and improved labelling.
“Today’s proposals to support packaging waste prevention, reuse and closed-loop recycling are urgently needed given the historic levels of waste Europe faces,” said Jean-Pierre Schweitzer from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a green pressure group.
Waste prevention and reuse
For the first time, the EU is choosing to regulate the top tiers of the waste hierarchy, which are seen as the most environmentally friendly ways of dealing with waste. This includes targets to reduce the amount of waste packaging by 5 % by 2030 and 15 % by 2040.
Alongside this, the European Commission is cracking down on unnecessary packaging. Within a year of the law coming into force, it will ban a variety of packaging formats, including single-use packaging in hotels and restaurants, like mini shampoo bottles and packaging for food consumed on the premises.
The new law also introduces reuse targets for packaging, ranging from drinks bottles to delivery boxes.
Alongside the reuse targets, the proposal contains measures to boost recycling. For instance, by 2030, all packaging will need to be recyclable and, by 2035, all of it will need to be recycled at scale.
To support its aim, the Commission sets out guidelines for easy-to-recycle packaging. It will then be graded on how recyclable it is, with Grade A meaning 95 % of the weight can be recycled and the lowest grade, E, meaning only 75 % can be.
Grade E packaging will be banned from the EU market in 2030. Meanwhile, to incentivise recyclability, the amount of money paid to extended producer responsibility schemes will be determined by the grade, with Grade A paying the least.
The European Commission also plans to introduce measures specifically aimed at improving the recycling rate of plastics, citing what an EU official called a “market failure” to recycle them.
All plastic packaging will be subject to mandatory recycled content targets, with objectives for 2030 and 2040 based on whether or not it comes into contact with food.
Other measures in the proposal include mandatory deposit return schemes for plastic bottles and cans unless an EU country can prove it has reached 90 % collection by other means.
The proposal will now be discussed by EU countries and the European Parliament, who will then come together to negotiate the final law.