According to the Commission, new doors will open for the industry in terms of business opportunities, especially for smaller companies, while the consumption of virgin materials will drop. More European recycling capacity will make Europe less dependent on primary resources and external suppliers.
For consumers, the proposed revisions will bring more reusable packaging options; eliminate unnecessary packaging and limit overpackaging; and provide clear labels to support correct recycling. Companies will be required to use reusable or refillable package for a certain percentage of their products - for example takeaway drinks and meals or e-commerce deliveries. Packaging formats will to some extent be standardised and reusable packaging clearly labelled as such.
The proposal will clear up confusion on which packaging belongs to which recycling bin, as each piece of packaging will carry a label showing what the packaging is made of and in which waste stream it should go. Importantly, the waste collection containers will carry the same labels - and the same symbols will be used throughout the EU.
Single-use packaging for food and beverages consumed inside restaurants and cafes will be banned, as will single-use packaging for fruits and vegetables, miniature shampoo, toiletries and other miniature packaging in hotels.
Other measures include setting design criteria for packaging; creating mandatory deposit return systems for plastic bottles and aluminium cans; and clearly marking packaging as compostable so that consumers can dispose of this appropriately.
“On compostable plastics, there is an important difference between materials that are compostable at home, and those that require industrial facilities. This has to be clear to consumers,” emphasised Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, at the presentation of the revised regulation.
Under the proposed new rules, however, the use of compostable packaging is mandated only when its use ‘brings a clear benefit for the environment or for human health’, such as when compostable packaging helps with the collection or disposal of bio-waste.
This latter proposal was received with a mixture of disappointment and relief by the Berlin-based European Bioplastics association. Relief, because an initially proposed partial ban on compostable plastic packaging was eventually lifted and compostable packaging solutions will continue to be allowed to be marketed and recycled in the EU, according to Hasso von Pogrell, managing director of EUBP. By making several packaging applications mandatory to be compostable in industrial composting facilities, including tea bags, filter coffee pods and pads, fruit stickers, and very lightweight plastic carrier bags, the Commission is taking a first step in the right direction, in the view of EUBP.
On the other hand, the disappointment stemmed from the Commission’s proposal failing to promote biobased content the way it promotes recycled content: through targets to help secure feedstock availability, to achieve recycled content targets, and to meet the strict requirements for contact-sensitive materials. “Prioritising recycled content and mechanical recycling will not be enough to replace the EU’s dependence on fossil resources and to stop the current trend of over-packaging and excessive waste in the EU, said the association. Von Pogrell called on EU policymakers to ‘show more ambition and clear vision in their political support to biobased and compostable plastics by improving and further clarifying the proposal with the aim to decisively support innovation in the sector of sustainable materials and packaging solutions, ensuring that investments, jobs, and innovation remain in Europe’.