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EU Draft Legislation Aims to Reduce Single-Use Packaging Usage


If approved by the European Parliament and EU governments, a new provisional agreement will see the EU banning a range of single-use plastics by 2030. This includes plastic bags for fruits and vegetables in supermarkets, small condiment packets, and mini shampoo bottles in hotels, as reported by Reuters.


Additionally, the ban will extend to PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals," in all food-contact packaging, following a similar prohibition in the U.S.

The legislation, part of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) proposed in late 2022, aims to cut down EU packaging waste by 5% by 2030, with further reductions planned for 2035 and 2040.


The regulation also introduces re-use targets for certain packaging and drink containers, excluding wine and milk, encouraging customers to bring their own containers without facing penalties. By 2030, disposable plastic items like wrappers, plates, utensils, and cups will no longer be used in dine-in and fast-food establishments across the EU. The ban will also affect the hospitality industry, with the elimination of mini bottles of personal care products in hotels, and the practice of shrink-wrapping luggage at airports will be discontinued.


EU countries will be required to collect at least 90% of plastic bottles and metal drink containers by 2029. Those without a mandatory deposit-return system (DRS) will need to implement one, although exemptions will be granted to countries that have already achieved these collection rates or have a viable plan to meet the target.


Main elements of the agreement


Recycling Standards and Recycled Material Usage in Packaging


The provisional agreement upholds many of the initial sustainability standards and targets for packaging introduced by the Commission. It notably enhances restrictions on substances within packaging, specifically limiting the use of PFASs in food contact packaging beyond certain levels. To ensure coherence with existing legislation, the agreement assigns the Commission the task of re-evaluating this restriction within four years from the regulation's application date.


This agreement also retains the ambitious goals for incorporating recycled content in plastic packaging by 2030 and 2040. Exemptions were made for compostable plastic packaging and for packaging where the plastic component is less than 5% of the total weight. The Commission is tasked with reviewing the 2030 targets' effectiveness and evaluating the practicality of the 2040 objectives. Furthermore, the Commission is directed to review the progress of bio-based plastic packaging technology three years after the regulation takes effect and, based on this evaluation, establish sustainability criteria for bio-based content in plastic packaging.


Additionally, the new regulations aim to minimize excess packaging by establishing a maximum empty space ratio of 50% for grouped, transport, and e-commerce packaging. It mandates that manufacturers and importers reduce the weight and volume of packaging to the minimum necessary, with exceptions for protected packaging designs that were already approved by the time the regulation comes into effect.


Targets for Reusing and Refilling Packaging


The agreement outlines specific reuse targets that will become mandatory by 2030, with additional goals set for 2040. These targets are tailored to the packaging type, covering alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages—wine, aromatized wines, milk, and other highly perishable drinks are exceptions. It also applies to transport and sales packaging, with exclusions for items containing dangerous goods, large equipment, and flexible packaging directly touching food, as well as grouped packaging. Generally, cardboard packaging is not subject to these reuse targets.


The agreement offers a renewable five-year exemption from meeting the reuse targets under certain conditions, such as:


  • the member state surpasses the 2025 recycling targets by 5 percentage points and anticipates exceeding the 2030 recycling targets by the same margin.
  • the member state is progressing towards its waste prevention goals.
  • businesses have implemented corporate strategies for waste prevention and recycling that support the regulation's waste prevention and recycling aims.


The updated regulations provide an exemption for micro-enterprises from meeting the reuse targets and allow economic operators to collaborate, forming groups of up to five final distributors, to collectively achieve the reuse objectives for beverages.


Furthermore, the legislation mandates that take-away establishments must enable customers to use their own containers for the purchase of cold or hot drinks and pre-prepared meals without incurring extra costs. By 2030, these businesses are also required to ensure that at least 10% of their offerings are available in reusable packaging formats.


Deposit return systems (DRS)


Under the newly established guidelines, by the year 2029, member states are obligated to ensure that at least 90% of single-use plastic bottles and metal beverage containers are collected separately each year. To fulfill this requirement, countries must implement deposit return systems (DRSs) for these types of packaging. However, the mandate for minimum DRS standards will not affect pre-existing systems set up before the regulation takes effect, provided these systems meet the 90% collection target by 2029.


Additionally, the agreement introduces a provision allowing member states to be exempt from the DRS implementation requirement if they achieve a separate collection rate exceeding 80% by 2026 and submit a detailed plan outlining their approach to reach the overall 90% collection goal.


Limitations on Specific Packaging Types


The updated regulations impose limits on various packaging types, targeting single-use plastic containers for fruits and vegetables, food and beverage items, condiments, and sauces in the hospitality and food service industry. They also restrict small cosmetic and toiletry product packaging, such as shampoo or body lotion bottles found in hotels, and extremely light plastic bags used for bulk grocery purchases at markets.

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