EU to toughen packaging regulations

The European Commission’s radical proposal to change the rules on packaging is set to reduce packaging waste by 15% per member state per capita by 2040. These EU-wide proposed changes come after research revealed that packaging was among the main users of virgin material, with 40% of plastics and 50% of paper in the EU used for packaging.

Over the last 10 years, packaging waste has increased by more than 20% in the EU and with each EU citizen generating just under 180kg of packaging waste per year, without additional intervention packaging waste is forecasted to increase by a huge 19% by 2030.

These changes have been laid out with the aims of:


The regulations would facilitate consumers to make greener choices at the till such as more reusable packaging options, reduction in over-packaging of products and clear recycling labels on products. The proposed regulations will put the European packaging sector on track for climate neutrality by 2050.

The Commission said that the reuse or refilling of packaging has declined dramatically in the past 20 years. To encourage a more circular culture, the proposed regulations would require companies to offer a fixed percentage of their products to consumers in reusable or refillable packaging.

As well as incentivising reuse of packaging, certain single-use packaging would be banned such as packaging for food and beverages consumed inside of restaurants and cafes, and for products such as fruit and vegetables.

Many measures in these regulations aim to make packaging fully recyclable by 2030. These measures include setting design criteria for packaging, the introduction of a mandatory deposit return system for plastic bottles and aluminium drinks cans, and a requirement of producers to include a minimum rate of recycled content in new plastic packaging.

The Commision said the regulations would deliver clarity to consumers and industry around bio-based, compostable and biodegradable plastics. Under the proposals, biomass used to produce bio-based plastics must be sourced sustainably, biodegradable plastics “must be approached with caution” and labelled to show how long they will take to biodegrade, and industrially compostable plastics should be used only when they have environmental benefits.

The proposals have not yet been approved; they will be presented to the European Parliament and European Council for decisions on whether they should be introduced.

Key measures include:


"I commend the European Commission's proposal and ambitious targets, particularly the increased recycling rates and recycled content target in plastic packaging. It’s positive to see this level of interest in moving to a circular economy on an EU level."

Barry Dunne, Recycling Specialist, Clarity Environmental commented:

“I commend the European Commission’s proposal and ambitious targets, particularly the increased recycling rates and recycled content target in plastic packaging. It’s positive to see this level of interest in moving to a circular economy on an EU level. We’ve previously seen the influence EU law has had on law making around the world and I encourage the UK to foster a similar drive to a circular system as the EU are.

“However, for the UK to accommodate the proposed figures, the UK waste network requires infrastructure changes and investment as well as policy reform for packaging producers. From much needed improvements in kerbside collection, sorting and processing systems all the way to improving ‘end of waste’ options in the UK.

“With the UK Extended Producer Responsibility regulations in phase one of its implementation, we hope to see enough investment generated to meet the packaging waste needs of the UK, and in time, meet recycling and waste reduction targets as dynamic as the ones set out in the European Commission’s proposal.”

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