New EU rules to reduce, reuse and recycle packaging

29 May 2024

On Wednesday, Parliament adopted new measures to make packaging more sustainable and reduce packaging waste in the EU.

The regulation, which aims to tackle constantly growing waste, harmonise internal market rules and boost the circular economy, was approved with 476 votes in favour, 129 against and 24 abstentions.

Reduce packaging and restrict certain types

The rules, which have been provisionally agreed on with the Council, include packaging reduction targets (5% by 2030, 10% by 2035 and 15% by 2040) and require EU countries to reduce, in particular, the amount of plastic packaging waste. To reduce unnecessary packaging, a maximum empty space ratio of 50% is set for grouped, transport and e-commerce packaging; manufacturers and importers will also have to ensure that the weight and volume of packaging are minimised.

Certain single use plastic packaging types will be banned from 1 January 2030. These include packaging for unprocessed fresh fruit and vegetables, packaging for foods and beverages filled and consumed in cafés and restaurants, individual portions (for e.g. condiments, sauces, creamer, sugar), accommodation miniature packaging for toiletry products and very lightweight plastic carrier bags (below 15 microns).

To prevent adverse health effects, the text includes a ban on the use of so called “forever chemicals” (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances or PFASs) above certain thresholds in food contact packaging.

Encourage reuse and refill options for consumers

Specific 2030 reuse targets are foreseen for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages packaging (except e.g. milk, wine, aromatised wine, spirits), transport and sales packaging, as well as grouped packaging. Member states may grant a five-year derogation from these requirements under certain conditions.

Final distributors of beverages and take-away food will have to offer consumers the option of bringing their own container. They will also be required to endeavour to offer 10% of products in a reusable packaging format by 2030.

Recyclable packaging, better waste collection and recycling

Under the new rules, all packaging (except for lightweight wood, cork, textile, rubber, ceramic, porcelain and wax) will have to be recyclable by fulfilling strict criteria.

Measures also include minimum recycled content targets for plastic packaging and minimum recycling targets by weight of packaging waste.

By 2029, 90% of single use plastic and metal beverage containers (up to three litres) will have to be collected separately (via deposit-return systems or other solutions that ensure the collection target is met).

Rapporteur Frédérique Ries (Renew, BE) said: “For the first time in an environmental law, the EU is setting targets to reduce packaging, regardless of the material used. The new rules foster innovation and include exemptions for micro-enterprises. The ban on forever chemicals in food packaging is a great victory for the health of European consumers. We now call on all industrial sectors, EU countries and consumers to play their part in the fight against excess packaging.”

 

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