Legislation 13.6.2023

The draft packaging waste regulation divides opinion in Brussels

Industry, member states and political groups have criticized the Commission's proposal in exceptionally harsh terms. The proposal will be voted on in the autumn, and political debate is heating up right now.

By Anna Mäkelä

The Packaging Waste Directive is being turned into a regulation in order to harmonise practices across the EU. The new regulation aims to reduce packaging waste, increase reuse and make recycling easier. The European Commission’s proposal of 30 November 2022 includes a ban on the use of single-use packaging for food eaten in restaurants. Recyclability of packaging waste will also be given an A-E classification similar to that currently used in assessing the energy efficiency of washing machines, for example.

The Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) is currently being debated in Brussels. The debate is heated though the divide in the European Parliament is not the usual one between northern and southern European countries or even between political groups, but the MEPs are divided on individual issues. There has also been a great deal of criticism of the Commission’s proposal, although there is generally little criticism of the Commission’s proposals for regulations concerning the environment.

There are also differences of opinion on a country-by-country basis on issues such as the reuse of food packaging: “France and Germany are in favour of reuse. It’s likely to work in big cities, but not in a sparsely populated country like Finland. Moreover, the impact assessment report commissioned by the Commission does not identify all the environmental impacts of reuse in terms of washing, cleaning and transport especially in countries with long distances. The characteristics of each country should, therefore, be taken into account,” says Elsi Katainen, MEP (the Centre Party), who is a shadow rapporteur appointed by the Committee on Agriculture to follow the regulation.

Finland outlined its position in the parliamentary debate last winter. The guiding principle is that reuse and recyclability must complement each other. The list of prohibited packaging types should be evaluated in more detail by the Parliament. The differences in national systems must also be considered; Finland, for example, has a unique return system for bottles that should not be disposed of under the PPWR. Finland has demanded that it should have the possibility to deviate from the regulation on the basis of the overall environmental impact.

Committees and Parliament will vote in the autumn

The industry in Europe has voiced a number of concerns about the proposed regulation. The European packaging industry umbrella organisation commissioned an ISO-certified life cycle analysis to be carried out by Ramboll, an international consultancy favoured even by the Commission. The analysis shows that reusable packaging only reaches the same environmental impact as single-use packaging after the seventh cycle of use. The industry is also concerned about the position of fibre-based packaging; the cardboard industry has invested hundreds of millions of euros in sustainable product development and recyclability, but the regulation overemphasises reuse. The industry if worried that, at worst, the regulation will increase the use of plastic.

The industry will have to – or it might be beneficial for it to – hold up innovations for almost a decade as a new regulation is coming but no one knows what it is going be like or when it will happen.

There are also concerns about the decision-making process. The draft Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation contains 20 delegated acts. The delegated acts will remain to be formulated by the Commission at a later stage, over a period of approximately 5 to 10 years. This means that the industry will have to – or it might be beneficial for it to – hold up innovations for almost a decade as a new regulation is coming but no one knows what it is going be like or when it will happen.

The European Parliament’s committees will vote on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation in September, and the European Parliament will vote in a plenary session on 2 October. The voting process will be tedious as there are hundreds of proposed amendments. Then there are the so-called trilogue negotiations, where the Commission, Parliament and council representing the member states deals with the matter. The Commission’s aim is to have the regulation adopted in early 2024, before the next European elections.

Now is the time to lobby. Rinki, the producer organisations and Rinki’s owner associations are working to ensure that recycling and reuse remain options.