How is packaging legislation changing in the EU?
by Annis Mapleston at 11:33 in Circular Economy, Emerging, Environmental, Packaging
Having been relatively stable for many years, EU packaging legislation is currently undergoing a number of significant changes. The EU is currently either considering or has recently passed proposals including the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), the Green Claims Directive and the Eco-Design for Sustainable Products Framework. In this blog, we look at some of the key developments and how they may impact businesses.
The EU has minimum standards for packaging design, called the Essential Requirements, which have been in place for many years. These were expected to be reviewed a few years ago, but it appears that the approach is going to be changed completely. In the future, it is expected that the EU will publish Design for Recycling guidance covering all packaging. This will then be linked to a recycling performance grading system, with producers being required to identify where their packaging sits on a scale of A-E. Grade E (and possibly grade D) packaging will be deemed unrecyclable and will not be allowed on the EU market. It is not currently known what the Design for Recycling guidance will consider to cause issues with recycling, or how this will be mapped to the performance grading system. Additional information will be released through delegated acts, after the main PPWR has been passed. It is therefore unlikely that any packaging will be banned under this provision for a few years.
Use of recycled plastic is an increasingly widespread topic around the world. Current EU legislation mandates minimum thresholds of post-consumer recycled content (PCR) in single use plastic beverage bottles, but no other packaging. The draft PPWR would change that, introducing PCR targets for all plastic packaging (with different requirements for contact-sensitive packaging, single use beverage bottles and all other plastic packaging). It is expected that some packaging, such as that used for in-vitro medical devices and potentially food-contact packaging, may be exempt for a short period - precise details are still under discussion.
In the same way as we can currently see in a few Asian countries, the draft PPWR is expected to include provisions that would limit the amount of empty space used in certain types of packaging, especially when designed to artifically increase the perceived volume of a product. This would include space filled by packaging components such as air pockets. Packaging minimisation criteria would be introduced to ensure that only packaging necessary to protect the product and ensure its hygiene and safety is placed on the market.
Bans and restrictions
The draft PPWR contains a number of single use packaging formats that would be banned, including:
- Sachets and portion packs used in the HORECA (catering) sector (maintained in the Council position but removed from the Parliament's);
- Packaging used as fillers, such as packing peanuts and air pockets (added in the Parliament negotiating position);
- Plastic packaging designed to group products with the aim of enabling or encouraging consumers to purchase multiple items;
- Single-use hotel miniatures for cosmetics, hygiene and toiletry products with a capacity less than 100ml or 100g.
One debate that is currently raging is whether packaging containing intentionally added PFAS and BPA should be banned or merely discouraged. The European Parliament has proposed that it should be banned, whilst the Council position stops short of this and focuses on unspecified 'chemicals of concern'. It is not currently clear which view will prevail during the trilogue negotiations.
Extended Producer Responsibility
While packaging EPR has existed across the EU for many years, it is often argued that the current Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive allows for too much divergence in implementation between the Member States. The PPWR aims to create greater harmonisation and therefore more simplicity for producers.
Key changes that can be expected include:
- The creation of national packaging producer registers (similar to Germany's LUCID platform);
- A requirement for all non-resident producers (e.g. e-commerce sellers based outside the EU) to appoint an Authorised Representative in-country;
- An obligation for e-commerce sales platforms to register and report on behalf of any vendors that are not reporting themselves;
- Introduction of eco-modulated fees (where they do not already exist) based on ease of recyclability and other factors.
At present, there is no EU-level mandatory packaging labelling linked to end-of-life disposal. A number of Member States (e.g France, Italy and Spain) have their own requirements for material coding and/or sortation instructions, to identify what a package is made from and how it should be disposed of. Additionally, an EU standard exists for material identification - where countries have chosen to impose mandatory material coding requirements, it is typically based on this system. There is no such common standard for sorting instructions, with every country designing and implementing their own labels (albeit with some voluntary cross-market collaboration, such as in the Nordic states).
However, under the proposed Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, this is likely to change. It is currently proposed that all consumer-facing packaging should be marked with a standardised pictogram showing the material it is made from, and that waste bins should be marked with the same pictograms to identify how that material should be sorted (e.g. through mixed recycling, or in a separate recycling stream). There is currently no agreement on whether Member States should be allowed to impose their own additional requirements or not.
Legislation and guidance on what marketing claims can be made currently varies across the EU, with some countries such as France banning the use of specific phrases and others having no restrictions at all. As a result, it is still widely possible for brands to make marketing claims (whether explicitly or not) based on the environmental credentials of a product, which may or may not be justifiable.
Two pieces of legislation are currently being reviewed by the EU to amend this situation: the Green Claims Directive and updated consumer rules to support the green transition. Taken together, these would:
- ban generic environmental claims such as 'eco-friendly' unless proof of their accuracy is provided;
- provide clear guidance on how such claims can be verified;
- ban claims on carbon emissions based on the purchase of carbon credits;
- prohibit the use of sustainability labels unless they have been approved by an accredited scheme or a national authority;
- create rules for the governance of environmental labelling schemes to ensure that they are appropriately transparent and reliable.
While much of the legislation discussed in this blog is still in draft form and therefore subject to change, it seems inevitable that requirements placed on packaging used in the EU are going to change significantly over the next few years. All companies worldwide selling packaged goods into the EU are likely to be affected in some way, whether they are selling via a retailer or distributor, or selling directly to consumers. You should expect to see a significant amount of secondary legislation (such as implementing decrees) being published once the main laws have been passed, making reliable and in-depth monitoring critical.
If you would like to know more about any of these topics and how they might impact your business, please contact us to talk to one of our consultants.