How European legislation is influencing plastic packaging

Posted on 14 Feb 2024 by Joe Bush

The expected changing landscape of the trends and regulations that impact plastic packaging drives medium- and long-term decision making for customers, who are many of the world’s leading food and beverage brands. Povilas Liksa, RETAL Industries, Legal Director explains.

The importance of staying ahead of the requirements that influence product development, customer challenges and sustainability – both environmentally and commercially – is undeniable, but how to achieve this is not so clear.

The EU is largely driven by the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ mantra, and I believe the hierarchy of waste management must include clear education on how ‘reduce’ can be supported by the plastic packaging industry itself. Recycling and recyclability are the only main topics now. Recycling PET is not enough to firmly establish and continue a viable circular economy. Reusability is more in focus currently, which is certainly important, but does not address the need for a greater volume of post-consumer material.

Changes to the plastic packaging industry – SUP, DfR and traceability

It is certainly clear that there are huge changes coming, most notably related to packaging and packaging waste, as well as all waste management, Single Use Plastics (SUP) directive implementation and sustainability. The upcoming EU elections this year are forcing a tight schedule for all regulatory affairs, with many new regulations pending or soon to come into force.

The EU Commission’s aim is to standardise as much as possible, like defining what recyclability means, the exact criteria for Design for Recycling (DfR) or what should be the sorted waste and recycled material. Rules make life easier for producers! There will be strict requirements and restrictions to avoid initially, so it is our responsibility as a producer to continue to be open-minded about other opportunities beyond recycling to contribute positively to the circular economy.

The EU Commission is also trying to establish extremely strict traceability of recycled content, which producers should comply with, which means RETAL expects to be able to declare batch number, volume and installation the recyclate was produced. A positive of the new EU 2022/1616 regulation is that chemical recycling is now included in the scope.

This is a major opportunity for us as we can work in partnership with our sister company NEO Group, a PET resins and polyol producer. We expect that the validation of the technology through so called ‘Novel technologies’ process will take a long time, but we are pleased to be ready as soon as possible, with the technology, the infrastructure, and the expertise in place.

The Packaging & Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), still currently in draft at the EU Commission, proposes that all packaging is created with Design for Recycling principles by 2030 and all packaging must be separately collected and/or fully recyclable at scale by 2035. I hope to see a clear definition of what ‘at scale’ means and will be watching the draft with interest as it progresses.

No clear answers

There is still a great debate throughout our industry as to the practicalities of the implementation of the SUP Directive, with no clear answers currently.

There is also negative progress on the topic of plastic tax in different EU countries. For example, recently Lithuania and Germany governments decided to collect the money that is paid to EU Commission as plastic tax from the producers and importers. Some other countries may follow.

I fully support the EU Commission in its desire to stop greenwashing and look forward to any green claims being quantified and provable, so consumers can make informed decisions and make a level playing field for producers, brands, and, ultimately, EU countries.

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