Drinks-industry bodies this week welcomed changes to a review of packaging and packaging-waste requirements in the EU, while environmental organisations hailed it “behind the times”.
The EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive aims to increase circularity of food and beverage packaging by targeting member states’ recycling, reuse and refilling rates.
Draft measures aimed to reduce packaging waste by 5% by 2030 and 15% by 2040 in each member state on a per-capita basis, compared to 2018 levels.
A revised document from the European Commission, approved by MEPs on Wednesday (22 November), removed reuse and refill targets for spirits, wine, sparkling wine, aromatised wine products such as vermouth and “highly perishable” beverages such as milk.
It also requested businesses be exempt from targets if, by 2027, their country’s rate of recycling of the “predominant packaging material” or format, such as PET bottles or aluminium cans, was above 85%.
Initial legislation recommended 10% of alcoholic beverage packaging – not including wine – be sold in reusable or refillable packaging by 2030 and 25% by 2040. For still wine, it recommended a 5% minimum by 2030 and 15% by 2040.
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EU spirits body spiritsEurope welcomed the “tailored approach” to alcoholic-beverage packaging.
Sarah Melina Siebel, internal market and sustainability director at spiritsEurope, said: “We applaud the decision of the Parliament to revert to the proposal of the European Commission which made it clear why exempting spirits from mandatory re-use targets is the most sensible and sustainable approach forward.
“Re-use and recycling solutions go hand in hand and complement each other in practice. However, given the structural and product-related specificities of our sector, flexibility is needed to ensure future development and consistent progress – a fact that is now reflected in the EP’s position.”
Changes were also made to the wording around deposit and return systems (DRS), taking the emphasis away from manufacturers.
The initial report stated manufacturers should be targeted “as these actors are able to control the packaging formats used for the products they offer”, however the Commission’s approved amendments state targets should be placed only on “final distributors”.
Soft-drinks industry body UNESDA said closed-loop recycling, DRS and refill were “critical enablers to turn the theory of circular packaging into practice”.
Nicholas Hodac, UNESDA director general, said: ‘’While we still have concerns regarding the increased targets without further impact assessment, we are pleased with MEPs’ support for systems enabling refill and the creation of mechanisms that will enable the complementarity of reuse and recycling.
“This will ensure reusable packaging is introduced where and when it makes the most sense from an environmental perspective.’’
But EU group Zero Waste Europe called the vote “a position for the wrong century” and accused the EU of bowing down to industry pressure.
Head of policy Aline Maigret said: “We are dissatisfied with the decreased ambition in the text. Granting derogations and exemptions on waste prevention and reuse to ‘appease’ industry players is unacceptable and takes us even further from the ultimate goal of this revision: reducing packaging waste.”
The European Parliament requested the Commission update the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, first published in 1994, in October 2020.
The Comission published its proposal in November last year, which received a total of 2,741 amendments from the lead committee, the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI).
Last month, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) accused the directive’s opponents of “attempting to cripple its waste prevention and reuse provisions” in the past year.
It said: “Policy makers across institutions have complained about an endless influx of meeting requests, untransparent studies and increasingly aggressive lobbying strategies.”
Marco Musso, EEB senior policy officer for circular economy, said: “The final text supported by the ENVI committee is weaker than the original proposal as a result of unprecedented levels of lobbying from the biggest polluters in the single-use packaging industry.
“Europe urgently needs credible rules to stop the uncontrolled growth of packaging waste. Any further dilution of the waste prevention rules must be avoided.”
On-premise food and beverage
The regulation includes the ban of single-use packaging for food and beverages consumed inside restaurants and cafes.
The EU is set to mandate operators to offer consumers the option to purchase food or beverages in their own containers or in reusable packaging.
Targets for takeaway hot and cold beverages, however, were removed. The original report suggested from 1 January 2030, 20% of beverages be produced in reusable packaging or available to refill, rising to 80% by 1 January 2040.
A target mandating the horeca channel to provide 10% of takeaway ready-prepared food in reusable or refillable packaging by 2030 (rising to 40% by 2040) was also axed.
The amendments also stated businesses could refuse customers a refill “if they deem [a container] unhygienic or unsuitable for the food or drink being sold”.
The ENVI committee also added restrictions on food-packaging materials. These include prohibiting Bisphenol A (BPA) in products that come into contact with food, such as disposable cutlery, and a ban on paper and cardboard food packaging containing “intentionally added” per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs), which are often used to create a water-resistant coating on food packaging.
It suggested mandating the use of compostable plastic packaging for products like tea bags and coffee pods, where separating food waste from plastic is “complex” for consumers and both materials end up in the wrong recycling channels.
Other additions included requiring member states provide customers in restaurants, canteens, bars, cafés and catering services tap water for free or for a “low” service fee.