The European Commission published its proposal for reforms to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive on 30 November. According to the Commission’s Vice-President Frans Timmermans, the new directive will require that packaging be reusable or refillable. The proposal contains binding numerical targets and aims that will be pushed to the top of the waste management priority list.
The Commission’s proposal has been met with ambivalence. The European Paper Packaging Alliance (EPPA) commissioned a life-cycle study that showed that recyclable, paper-based take-away packaging is better for the environment than reusable packaging due to the additional energy, water and raw materials required for transporting and washing reusable dishes. Professor Jyri Seppälä from the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE commented in the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper that EPPA’s research ignores emissions reductions achieved through developments in energy production and the impact of single-use packaging on forest carbon sinks.
Decisions must be made and positions taken. Global warming will not stop by itself.
Can anyone say for sure whether reusing packaging is a better way of slowing down climate change than recycling? Due to the numerous limitations and assumptions made in conducting life-cycle assessments (both by the Commission and other bodies), different studies can provide conflicting answers to the same questions. Nevertheless, decisions must be made and positions taken. Global warming will not stop by itself.
The packaging industry is committed to achieving the ambitious recycling targets set for 2025 and 2030. Recycling fees are now eco-modulated, recyclability of packaging has improved and investments are being made in new production and recycling facilities. The Commission’s proposal now threatens a change in course. Reusable packaging requires different production and logistics chains, but also, more significantly, new service concepts. There is a risk that this will increase costs, despite there being no agreement on the environmental benefits. No wonder so many people are confused.
CEO, Finnish Packaging Recycling RINKI Ltd