The EU’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation is closer to becoming law: What’s in the latest proposal?

On March 4, 2024, the European Parliament and European Council reached a tentative deal on the rules to be included in the final Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR).

The new deal keeps the requirements on recyclability, recycling, and recycled content of packaging, as well as reuse and refill goals, deposit return systems, and limits on certain packaging formats. It also includes some modifications and new exemptions to the existing requirements.

The PPWR is expected to have a significant impact on the packaging industry and the management of packaging waste in the EU, requiring changes in material selection, adjustments to existing processes, and more investment in recycling and waste management facilities.

EU member states’ representatives to the council and the parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) still have to approve the tentative deal before it is formally adopted by both institutions. The PPWR will take effect 18 months after it is published in the Official Journal of the European Union.

The EU Parliament and Council reach an agreement

After a somewhat contentious legislative process, talks between the European Council and the European Parliament concluded on March 4 with a provisional agreement on the rules to be included in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). Both institutions will need to formally adopt the agreement to make it final. This agreement is an important step forward for the PPWR, bringing it closer to becoming a reality. This report presents an update on the contents of the regulation as it gets closer to its final form.

What’s in the provisional deal?

The parliament and council’s provisional deal preserves most of the conditions from the original PPWR proposal and introduces some modifications and new exemptions to the requirements.

Let’s take a closer look at the key updates and changes included in the agreement.

Recyclability, recycling, and recycled content

When it comes to recycling, recyclability, and recycled content, negotiators agreed to keep some of the requirements that were part of the original proposal, such as:

Recyclability of packaging: All packaging must be recyclable. The PPWR proposes to measure the recyclability of packaging using a grading system. Packaging needs to be at least 70% recyclable by weight in order for it to be allowed on the market. The specific rules for the recyclability of packaging will be developed in secondary legislation.

Minimum recycled content in plastic packaging: The parliament and council agreed on goals for minimum recycled content in plastic packaging. Compostable plastic packaging and packaging that is less than 5% plastic by weight will be exempt from this requirement.

Minimum recycling targets: The agreement keeps the national recycling target requirements for each material. These targets will be measured by the weight of packaging placed on the market compared to the weight of recycled materials.

Substances of concern and PFAS

The provisional agreement maintains the obligation to limit and control the use of substances of concern in packaging. It also keeps the ban on the use of food contact packaging containing per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), which the parliament adopted last November. The European Commission will evaluate the ban on PFAS over the next four years to ensure there is no duplication of this requirement in other related regulations.

Reuse and refill targets

The council and the parliament agreed to set a 10% goal for reusable packaging for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. They also included some conditions that could grant countries more time to meet this goal.

Additionally, by 2030, establishments that sell food and drinks to go will have to allow customers to bring their own containers, as well as offer 10% of their products in reusable packaging. The text includes the possibility to give countries more time to meet the goals if 1) they surpass the recycling goals by five percentage points, 2) they are on track to meet waste reduction goals, and 3) operators have taken measures to boost recycling and reduce waste generation.

Deposit return systems (DRS)

The original proposal includes the requirement for countries to set up DRSs, in which customers pay a deposit on top of the price of a beverage. After consumption, they can return plastic and metal drink containers and get their deposit back.

If implemented, at least 90% of applicable beverage containers won’t end up in the trash by 2029. The updated text also permits some countries to skip the DRS requirements if they already collect more than 80% of such containers separately by 2026 and can demonstrate how they will reach 90%.

Restrictions on certain packaging formats

Since it was first proposed, the regulation has always contained limits on some types of packaging. Throughout the legislative process, this requirement has suffered some changes, including the parliament’s proposal to remove the prohibition on all kinds of packaging for fruit and vegetables.

The new agreement brings back limits on certain packaging formats. These include single-use plastic packaging for unprocessed fruit and vegetables and, in the hospitality sector, packaging for food and drinks that are filled and consumed on the premises, individually packed condiments and sauces, and small toiletry products. The limits on these packaging formats will start from 2030.

What’s next for the PPWR and the packaging industry?

The PPWR legislation still needs to receive approval from the member states’ council representatives and the environment committee (ENVI). If they agree, the text will be checked by language experts and then will need to be formally adopted by the parliament and the council. After that, the text will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union to take effect. The regulation will come into force 18 months later.

The tentative deal between the council and the parliament is a significant step in a legislative process that has sometimes faced doubt and disagreement. This milestone also gives the regulation more certainty. A lot of industries and players are waiting for clarity about the requirements in the PPWR. This milestone gives more certainty to the regulation by bringing it closer to its final form.

The enforcement of the rules in the PPWR are likely to affect the packaging industry and the treatment of packaging waste in the EU. We anticipate that packaging makers and users will need to make changes in their material selection. We also expect a rise in material replacement within packaging, adjustments of processes due to these changes, and greater demand for investment in recycling and waste management facilities. It is crucial that packaging makers, companies that use packaging, and governments prepare for the impact that this regulation will have.