EU plans to enforce new packaging waste laws

November 14, 2022 by
Frank Calviño

As part of the 2030 Environmental Agenda, the European Commission has announced that it is currently working on new packaging waste laws. 

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The plans include cutting down on empty space in e-commerce parcels as well as an increase in reusable packaging.  A draft of the rules, which was supposed to come out at the end of the month, was leaked early.

Nevertheless, the finished plans for these new packaging waste laws are supposed to be unveiled on November 30th. Adjustments to the laws are still being made. 

A lobbying frenzy against the new packaging waste laws 

According to the Politico website, the early leak of this draft has sparked a lobbying frenzy in Brussels to try to either moderate or change some of the new EU directives concerning the packaging. 

Under the draft rules, businesses in the hospitality sector offering takeaway food or drink, for example, will have to serve customers in reusable packaging or by using customers' own containers. 

At least 30 percent of takeaway beverage sales will have to meet those criteria, with the target ramping up to 95 percent in January 2040.

Those targets have alarmed sectors from the beer industry to the hospitality trade, which say they're worried about complicated logistics, high costs, and hygiene issues, derived from the new packaging waste laws.

Indeed, some of the measures leaked by Politico - if they survive into the final draft - could pose severe incongruencies regarding previous Covid sanitary measures, recently enforced. 

Is it our health, or the planet? 

During a POLITICO Working Group discussion, Anna Papagrigoraki, sustainability director at the Confederation of European Paper Industries, warned of "cross-contamination" between food types including potential allergens, and wondered who would be responsible for fixing damaged containers.

"The entire life-cycle including end-of-life of reusable options has to be taken into account ... including recyclability," she said.

The industry is not alone in questioning the draft proposal for these new packaging waste laws.

Bruno Gautrais, in charge of food processing technologies in the Commission's health department, said he had "more questions than answers" over the new plan. The reuse measures are far from the "regular habits" of most food sellers, who will have to "remain very strict on the hygiene part," he said. Aspects of the proposal are still being discussed within the Commission, but "the challenge is worth the effort to find common ground,” he added.

Finally, the Swiss food and drink multinational Nestlé, which is already trialing reuse systems, said hygiene issues "can be solved," but pointed out that comes with environmental trade-offs as it involves higher water and energy use — especially since containers and bottles may have to travel long distances to be refilled by the original company.

"Every glass bottle’s return logistics, cleaning, washing; it is not an easy case to make for the environment with all the energy, chemicals and water involved, not to speak about the economics," said Christian Detrois, the company's sustainability and packaging lead for Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. "So that's why we're having difficulties to really make an environmental case for reuse ... We're not at all pushing back but for an open debate we need to flag those concerns."

All in all, it seems that neither the industry nor the policymakers in Brussels have a clear solution that could provide a healthy hygienic packaging system for us humans, and at the same time, an environmentally friendly packaging that could be used and recycled at a large scale.

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