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“A complete overhaul”: Stakeholders clash over European Parliament PPWR vote results

#“A complete overhaul”: Stakeholders clash over European Parliament PPWR vote results

25 Oct 2023 — Yesterday’s vote by the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment (ENVI) on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) elicited varying opinions from key stakeholders, reflecting the complexity of European packaging waste management. 

MEPs adopted proposals to regulate the entire packaging life cycle, marking a critical move in the fight against pollution and fossil fuel dependency. 

Rapporteur Frédérique Ries, representing the Renew Party, emphasized the importance of these measures, saying: “The ENVI has sent out a strong message in favor of a complete overhaul of the European packaging and packaging waste market. There can be no effective recycling or reuse policy without safe packaging, which is why the ban on intentionally added harmful chemicals is a major victory for the health of European consumers.”

The next crucial step is for the full European Parliament to vote on its negotiating mandate during the second plenary session in November 2023.

Packaging Insights speaks to Zero Waste Europe (ZWE), UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe and the European Paper Packaging Alliance (EPPA) about their differing perspectives. 

Industry stakeholders are debating how the PPWR should be amended next year.ZWE: “Relief for policymakers”
Joan Marc Simon, director-founder of ZWE, emphasizes the need for reuse and recycling to effectively address packaging waste based on extensive research and the EU waste hierarchy. 

“For the first time in European packaging legislation, prevention and reuse are given a chance. The ENVI Committee’s decision allows for the systemic solutions that can deliver on this revision’s ultimate purpose: reduce packaging waste,” he says.

Simon argues that decades of recycling-only policies have not produced the desired results. He contends that scientific evidence and the existing waste hierarchy should guide decisions.

“Based on our research, other organizations’ research from NGOs and industry, JRC research, and the European Commission’s impact assessment (not to mention the EU waste hierarchy), it is clear that we need both reuse and recycling to address packaging waste.”

Simon acknowledges the concerns expressed by organizations like EPPA and UNESDA, which he says rely heavily on single-use packaging. However, he stresses that these concerns do not offer a credible plan for reducing packaging waste, which is the primary objective of the PPWR.

“There is more than enough research to justify the current reuse targets. If anything, research shows that more ambition would bring more economies of scale, and the current proposal is rather on the low ambition side. Nevertheless, it is a compromise that will give reuse a chance for the years to come, and this legal certainty is what is needed now.”

EPPA’s concerns about practical realities
Matti Rantanen, director general of EPPA, expresses concerns about the PPWR proposal, believing that it overlooks the practical realities of waste management and may create disincentives to address Europe’s waste problem.

“Forcing the widespread adoption of reusable packaging in the foodservice sector will result in a rise of up to 1500% in the volume of rigid plastic packaging, causing increased water stress, CO2 emissions and plastic pollution while costing up to €20 billion (US$21 billion) and increasing complexity for consumers and business owners. This will also seriously impact the agri-food industry, the backbone of several EU countries,” says Rantanen. 

Rantanen argues for the sustainability and high recycling rates of paper packaging, citing an average recycling rate of 82.5%, with numerous EU countries surpassing their 2030 targets. 

“Plastic meanwhile is recycled at below 40%, a number that will fall dramatically as millions more tons of rigid, reusable, hard-to-recycle products flood the EU market and ultimately into our oceans, rivers and landfills,” he says. 

Mandatory targets for reusable and single-use formats are being heavily contested.Rantanen highlights the EU’s Waste Framework Directive, which explicitly advocates LCAs to guide decisions regarding reuse and recycling. He laments that scientifically robust and reliable LCAs, demonstrating the environmental superiority of paper-based alternatives over plastic reusables, are often ignored.

“Time and again, robust and reliable (ISO certified and peer-reviewed) LCAs which show that paper-based alternatives are more environmentally performant than plastic reusables have been ignored in this debate, which has also focused overwhelmingly on food service packaging, even though this represents a tiny sliver of the EU’s overall packaging waste,” he critiques. 

UNESDA deplores compromise amendment 
The European soft drinks sector, represented by UNESDA, expresses “deep concerns” with the outcome of the vote by the ENVI committee on its amendments to the draft EU PPWR. With the adoption of reuse and refill targets in compromise amendment 10, UNESDA is disappointed that ENVI did not approve exemption mechanisms for bottlers.

Nicholas Hodac, director general of UNESDA, expresses appreciation for MEPs’ strong stance in favor of circularity, their support for closed-loop recycling of beverage bottles, and the expansion of Deposit and Return Systems (DRS).

However, Hodac voices alarm over the support for higher reuse targets without conducting further impact assessments and providing member states with the flexibility to exceed these targets. He questions the EU’s approach, expressing concerns about the potential creation of a patchwork of national targets that might harm Europe’s competitiveness.

Hodac concedes that reuse is an integral part of the EU’s strategy to reduce packaging and packaging waste, and the beverage sector is committed to offering reusable and refillable solutions. Nonetheless, he stresses that reuse might not be suitable in all circumstances and for all types of packaging. Flexibility for operators is essential to ensure that investments in reuse are made where they make the most sense.

“We should indeed not forget the massive investments our sector has been making in the collection and recycling of its packaging, including with the set-up of DRS, most of them achieving more than 90% collection of beverage packaging and very high recycling rates,” he tells us.

“Countries with long-established DRS like the Nordics achieve collection rates between 88% and 96%, and countries which have recently introduced DRS, such as Slovakia and Lithuania, are already reaching collection rates above 75%.”

UNESDA underscored that reuse and recycling should be seen as complementary measures, not mutually exclusive. The association believes there is also a considerable setback to the EU’s efforts to create a single market for circular beverage packaging.

By Radhika Sikaria

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