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EU Commission urged to address concerns over “climate-damaging loopholes” in PPWR

#EU Commission urged to address concerns over “climate-damaging loopholes” in PPWR

21 Mar 2024 — Following the recent agreement among the EU’s Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper) on amendments to the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), concerns are mounting over persisting loopholes that trade groups warn could exacerbate climate damage.

Plastic packaging manufacturers are strongly criticizing what they see as unjustified privileges granted to paper and cardboard packaging. These loopholes, they argue, undermine the regulation’s objectives, leading to increased packaging waste, higher CO2 emissions and reduced recycling rates.

The trade association for the German plastic packaging industry, IK Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen (IK), says the EU is heading for “massive trade conflicts” as a result of a “mirror clause” that was introduced at short notice.

Dr. Martin Engelmann, managing director of the IK association, expresses dismay over the direction of the PPWR, labeling it as an “anti-plastics regulation.”

“The Commission’s continued silence on the changes is unacceptable. We are calling on the Commission to disclose its concerns, particularly concerning trade barriers.” says Engelmann.

“It should also clarify that the massive expansion of the reusable quotas for industrial packaging to 100% is technically impossible in many cases and ecologically nonsensical and is tantamount to a ban on many types of packaging.”

Paper versus plastic
The mirror clause mandates that environmental requirements equivalent to those in the EU must apply to the manufacturing process for plastic recyclates, impacting the import of goods packaged in plastic from third countries.

Dr. Isabell Schmidt, managing director of circular economy at IK, warns of unintended environmental consequences from exemptions granted to paper and cardboard packaging: “Food packaging made of paper and cardboard, for example, usually cannot do without a plastic coating, as uncoated fibers cannot retain moisture or grease.”

“Compared to pure plastic packaging, however, they are significantly less recyclable and are also 40% heavier on average, which has a negative impact on energy consumption. The fact that they are excluded from many regulations leads to an undesirable development on the market and contradicts the EU’s principle of equal treatment,” criticizes Schmidt.

flag of the EUEurope’s recyclers have welcomed the Coreper deal, applauding it as a significant step forward for the European recycling industry and circular value chains.She also flags the impacts of allowing plastic-coated disposable packaging in fast-food establishments, while pure plastic packaging faces potential bans.

Furthermore, Schmidt points out that plastic-coated packaging with minimal plastic content is exempt from recyclate usage quotas and large-scale recycling requirements, “perpetuating reliance” on less recyclable materials.

“The association finds it incomprehensible that plastic-coated packaging with less than 5% plastic content would be exempt from the recyclate usage quotas and would not have to fulfill the requirements for large-scale recycling. It will also be possible to continue eating out of plastic-coated disposable packaging in fast food restaurants in the future, while pure plastic packaging is to be banned.”

Internal market disruption?
In contrast, Europe’s recyclers have welcomed the Coreper deal, applauding it as a significant step forward for the European recycling industry and circular value chains.

Olivier François, president of the European Recycling Industries Confederation (EuRIC), stresses the importance of setting equivalent conditions for imported recycled plastics to “ensure European industrial sovereignty, competitiveness and climate objectives.”

“These measures not only comply with WTO rules but also ensure consistency. It is necessary for the EU to impose conditions on imports of recycled plastics used in packaging products placed on the EU market, just as it bans exports of plastic waste in another piece of legislation,” the association says.

However, regarding remaining challenges, EuRIC argues that granting member states the freedom to prioritize access to recycled plastics risks disrupting the internal market. Instead, it believes the focus should be on recyclability requirements and improving collection rates to enhance packaging circularity and “green industrial growth.”

“Ambitious recycled content targets are crucial for driving investments in Europe and building the industry capacity necessary to meet them. This practically means more circular packaging products and green industrial jobs within Europe,” the EuRIC president concludes.

By Radhika Sikaria

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