The European Parliament has kicked off negotiations on the Commission’s proposed reform of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive. Food packaging plays an important role in the food chain, in security of supply and in ensuring food safety and its sustainability. The revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive aims to make all packaging materials on the EU market recyclable or reusable by 2030. Measures to reduce packaging waste and strengthen a more sustainable circular economy are to be welcomed and supported, but there must be a wide range of means available. This requirement is not present in the Commission’s proposal. It is important that reuse and recycling are recognised as complementary solutions, without compromising food safety and hygiene.
The aim of the reform is good, but it has also raised a lot of concern in the food and packaging sectors. The EU has made efforts to reduce the use of plastics in recent years, which is to be welcomed. Plastic is now making a comeback, even if it is not necessarily the best alternative from an environmental perspective. The environmental impact of plastics is not unambiguous compared to recyclable fibre packaging. The potential of sustainable and renewable bio-based materials must be recognised in the reform, as they can replace fossil raw materials efficiently.
I am in favour of promoting circular economy, but the reform must take into account the entire life cycle of packaging and leave room for innovation. The most important function of packaging is to protect the quality and safety of the product. It is, therefore, necessary to ensure that the reduction of packaging does not lead to an increase in food waste or a risk to food safety. The existing systems need to be improved and the waste collection infrastructure must be harmonised in such a way that packaging is collected on a material-by-material basis, which would contribute to packaging becoming part of a sustainable circular economy and a valuable raw material. It is essential to ensure that the specific characteristics of the Member States are taken into account and that well-functioning national systems are allowed to continue to operate.
Food safety and security of supply cannot be taken for granted, as the pandemic and the war have shown us. The special needs of the food sector and food production operations related to packaging materials must be acknowledged in order to ensure the safety and shelf life of food products, especially in Member States in which distances are long and population density is low.