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European Glass Container Federation: A “major revolution” underway ahead of PPWR

#European Glass Container Federation: A “major revolution” underway ahead of PPWR

Vanessa Chesnot, head of public affairs and product policy at FEVE.
 Vanessa Chesnot, head of public affairs and product policy at FEVE.

25 Jan 2024 — Ahead of the European Commission’s (EC) aim to change the current Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) to a Regulation — meaning all stipulations must be directly adhered to in all member states — we speak to Vanessa Chesnot, head of public affairs and product policy at FEVE, the European Container Glass Federation.

She explains that the shift aims at full harmonization in the way packaging is regulated across the EU and is intended to foster greater uniformity in the implementation of measures in all EU member states.

Can you explain in simple terms what the PPWR will mean for the packaging industry?
Chesnot: The review, covering an extensive range of topics, is very ambitious, propelling the packaging sector toward a fully circular economy. Beyond the pursuit of harmonization, the PPWR envisions substantial alterations to the EU’s legislative landscape governing packaging waste.

It seeks to simplify waste sorting for consumers by introducing various labels, targets the gradual phasing out of non-recyclable packaging, sets for the first-time mandatory reuse targets for beverages, and addresses packaging design to limit superfluous packaging.

The industry began an initiative called Close the Glass Loop to collect 90% of all glass packaging put on the market by 2030.FEVE supports measures aiming to foster a circular economy and further advance the circularity of glass packaging. But it’s crucial to note that this new legislation will, for the first time, also introduce reduction targets on the amount of packaging that can be placed on the market in the EU. These so-called waste reduction targets could significantly affect European brands and industries.

Could you explain the proposed waste reduction targets? What do you think is the most appropriate approach?
Chesnot: The EC has introduced “packaging waste reduction targets” to compel EU nations to decrease per capita packaging waste. While we endorse the goal of waste reduction, these targets aim to curb the quantity of packaging put onto the market as a means to reduce post-consumer packaging waste. The idea is that if you put less packaging on the market, you will generate less packaging waste.

This will likely limit the availability of primary packaging in the future and could particularly affect products like food and beverages, which rely on such primary packaging. According to the EC’s projections, these targets might lead to a 19% reduction in market-placed packaging by 2030, 29% by 2035 and up to 37% by 2040 compared to a business-as-usual scenario.

Our primary concern revolves around the fact that these reduction targets are not material specific. They apply to all packaging in general. This approach could potentially result in significant market imbalances, promoting a shift from heavier yet more circular materials (such as glass) to lighter but less recyclable or reusable packaging to meet the targets.

Rather than achieving a positive reduction in environmental impact, this shift might lead to increased plastic pollution. Notably, the EC’s evaluation anticipates a substantial increase in plastics (around 17%) and a notable decline in other packaging materials, including glass, by 2030. Our recommendation is straightforward: introduce a mechanism to ensure equitable efforts across all packaging materials to reduce the environmental impact of each material.

The PPWR plans also set requirements for packaging weight minimization. How do you think this will impact brands’ sustainability?
Chesnot: Our industry customers devote substantial effort in terms of time, resources, creativity, and value to craft distinctive packaging that uniquely aligns with categories and brands and helps them stand out. Specifically, well-designed glass bottles not only uphold the highest hygiene standards to preserve the quality of the products they protect but also serve as a means of communication for the identity and cultural heritage of the contained products.

FEVE members have reduced packaging weight by 30-40% in the last two decades.Glass packaging is often integral to product design and presentation, often reflecting the craftsmanship, tradition, and cultural heritage, contributing to the brand’s identity, product type, and geography and supporting brand premiumization.

Unqualified packaging minimization if not implemented well could result in all glass packaging looking the same. This poses potential risks for brand differentiation. This is crucial for SMEs entering the market with new products. Packaging differentiation is also crucial for counterfeit prevention, as standardized packaging makes it easier for counterfeiters to replace safe products with illicit and dangerous ones.

While we are committed to advancing eco-design by reducing the weight of our packaging, it should not be at the expense of design variety. Recognizing that product presentation should not be the sole criteria for increasing packaging weight or volume, we advocate for designing packaging to minimize volume and weight while preserving its ability to perform essential functions, including product presentation, and allowing reasonable and proportionate design differentiation.

How does the glass industry support brands’ sustainability commitments and drive toward carbon neutrality?
Chesnot: Our sector is embarking on a major revolution in the way we produce glass. All industries across the EU will have to be climate-neutral by 2050 at the latest. We are working to meet that goal. For us, it is an energy transition. We have done many transitions in the past, and we will achieve this one, too. Most of our CO2 emissions (80%) come from melting glass because we use natural gas. We will eliminate those emissions if we switch from natural gas to green energies (like electricity or hydrogen).

The other 20% of CO2 emissions come from the virgin raw materials we use. But if we replace these virgin materials with recycled glass we eliminate those emissions too. It is why our industry initiated a value-chain partnership called Close the Glass Loop to collect 90% of all glass packaging put on the market by 2030 and put it back in our furnaces.

Glass is inherently circular and a key player in sustainability. Under specific circumstances, reusing your packaging saves resources, and glass is the leader in reusable primary packaging. Today 22% of beer, soft drinks and water are packed in reusable glass bottles. Recycling also saves resources. Glass is 100% recyclable, and the latest figures show that over 80% is collected in the EU. 92 percent of what is effectively recycled is recycled in glass furnaces.

The ability of glass to be infinitely recycled over and over again without any loss of quality is a huge advantage over other materials.

Protecting distinctive packaging designs is crucial for brand identity, says Chesnot.Our members collaborate globally to right-weight glass packaging, reducing weight by 30-40% in the last two decades. We will continue to find ways to use the minimal amount of resources while always respecting product design and differentiation. We already have achieved a 70% reduction in energy intensity and 50% less CO2 emissions compared to 50 years ago. Our “Furnaces for the Future” vision will ensure that glass will remain a sustainable choice for brands, businesses, and retailers, contributing to a better planet.

Looking at the last phase of the negotiations between EU institutions, what are the views of the container glass industry?
Chesnot: As the PPWR enters its final negotiation phase, the glass industry acknowledges the positive aspects of the proposed PPWR but also expresses concerns. We advocate for fair waste reduction targets to prevent material substitution. The European Parliament (EP) voted through a specific measure to counter the growth of plastic waste that is predicted (in the EC’s own impact assessment) by having just one overall target.

Protecting distinctive packaging designs is crucial for brand identity and consumer engagement. Unlike the EP, member states failed to fully recognise design as an essential aspect of packaging and the importance of adequately respecting Intellectual Property Rights arising from unique designs. On top of its health and environmental benefits, the characteristics of glass in terms of design, transparency, shapes, colors and versatility often make glass an integral part of a product. We urge the proper recognition of design as an essential aspect of packaging.

Additionally, we support stronger recyclability measures. Recyclability performance grades and a definition of high-quality recycling will be introduced. It is welcome, as not all recycling has the same environmental value. We support the EP proposal to reward packaging that can feed into a closed material loop. Unfortunately, member states have diluted the recyclability measures. We would like to see member states aligning with the EP’s position to incentivize packaging that can be recycled in a closed material loop. That is the best way to ensure we reuse our resources over and over again.

We would like to see mandatory separate collection targets of packaging waste for all materials, and we regret that member states decided to limit this to a small proportion of packaging formats in the scope of the mandatory DRS. We think there should be mandatory separate collection targets for all packaging materials, which we believe will more effectively reduce waste and support environmental goals.

Contrary to some views put forward by member states, a mandatory target will ease the burden on taxpayers and a country’s waste management costs because the industry will need to get organized thanks to Extended Producer Responsibility Schemes to meet this target.

By Louis Gore-Langton

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