European Parliament updates rules on reduce, reuse and recycle and 'forever chemicals' ban

By Kirsty Doolan

- Last updated on GMT

 The EU said each European generated 188.7kg of waste in 2021 and this is likely to increase to 209kg by 2030 (Image: Getty)
The EU said each European generated 188.7kg of waste in 2021 and this is likely to increase to 209kg by 2030 (Image: Getty)

Related tags Recyclable materials Recyclable packaging Plastic Sustainability Sustainable packaging circular beauty Packaging circular economy Sustainable packaging Eu

But zero waste groups say the action falls short of expectations, while bioplastics groups say it takes an “over-regulatory approach towards bioplastics.”

As part of its plan to tackle constantly growing waste and boost reuse and recycling, the European Parliament has voted to reduce packaging, restrict certain types of packaging and ban the use of 'forever chemicals' in cosmetics and personal care packaging, with 426 MEPs voting in favour, 125 against and 74 abstentions.

But the plastics industry is disappointed that the role of biobased plastics wasn’t supported in the latest round of votes on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) legislation and zero waste groups have said that it fell short of their expectations.

An ever-increasing source of waste

The EU said that in 2018, packaging generated a turnover of €355bn in the EU, but that it’s an ever-increasing source of waste and has jumped from 66 million tonnes in 2009 to 84 million tonnes in 2021.

Each European generated 188.7 kg of packaging waste in 2021, a figure that is expected to increase to 209 kg in 2030 without additional measures.

The regulation now proposes:

  • Targets to reduce packaging by 5% by 2030, 10% by 2035 and 15% by 2040, and MEPs have also called to reduce plastic packaging by 10% by 2030, 15% by 2035 and 20% by 2040.
  • A ban on lightweight plastic carrier bags (below 15 microns), unless required for hygiene reasons or provided as primary packaging for loose food to help prevent food wastage.
  • Heavy restrictions on the use of certain single use packaging formats, such as hotel miniature packaging for beauty and personal care products.
  • A ban on “forever chemicals” (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances or PFASs) and Bisphenol A in food contact packaging.
  • All packaging should be recyclable, fulfilling strict criteria to be defined through secondary legislation. Certain temporary exemptions are foreseen, for example for wood and wax food packaging.
  • That 90% of materials contained in packaging (plastic, wood, ferrous metals, aluminium, glass, paper and cardboard) is collected separately by 2029.

Rapporteur Frédérique Ries stated: "Recent events in Europe, and particularly in Belgium, concerning water pollution by PFAS chemicals show the urgent need for action. By voting to ban ‘forever’ pollutants in food packaging, the European Parliament has shown that it seeks to protect the health of European citizens. Regarding plastics, the contract has been fulfilled, since my legislative report tackles the heart of the issue by setting tougher waste reduction targets for plastic packaging.”

Ries continued: “Unfortunately, on the circular economy, and prevention in particular, the outcome of the plenary vote is not so positive and ignores the reality of the figures: a 30% increase by 2030 if we don't act now. Of the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), only recycling escaped unscathed. The end of throwaway packaging is still a long way off!"

The European Parliament is now ready to start talks with national governments to shape the final law.

“Slowing down unnecessary investments”

However bioplastics companies have expressed disappointment at the outcome.

Head of EU Affairs at trade association European Bioplastics (EUBP), Roberto Ferrigno, said while EUBP commended the European Parliament for recognising the role of compostable plastics in achieving packaging waste prevention and reaching recycling targets, the full potential was still not reached.

He said the vote was “a first step in allowing the EU to reach the goal of generating at least 20% of the carbon used in chemicals and plastics from non-fossil sources by 2030,” ​but he also stated: “We regret that the role of biobased plastics in achieving the targets of recycled content was not supported.”

EUBP said it believed biobased plastics can and will, if enabled, contribute to the transition towards a circular economy, by storing and repurposing carbon dioxide.

He said that in an increasingly competitive market, the persistent over-regulatory approach towards bioplastics is putting the further development of sustainable innovative packaging applications at risk by slowing down necessary investments.

He said the EUBP now calls on EU co-legislators to "design and adopt a Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation that allows for the further development of net-zero, biobased polymers production technologies as enablers.”

“Stance that’s behind the times”

Meanwhile, NGO collective Zero Waste Europe said it believed that the vote “reflects a stance that is behind the times.”

It stated that Annex V, a list which itemised unnecessary packaging formats, suffered a major blow with extensive derogations.

It believed that although waste prevention targets were preserve, the text has been “watered-down”​ and now “excluded crucial mechanisms needed to actually reach those targets.”

It said that the position included reuse targets with derogations, reflecting an outdated stance that goes against the waste hierarchy.

Head of Policy at Zero Waste Europe, Aline Maigret, said the organisation was dissatisfied with the decreased ambition in the text. “Granting derogations and exemptions on waste prevention and reuse to ‘appease’ industry players is unacceptable and takes us even further from the ultimate goal of this revision: reducing packaging waste,” ​she said.

“One of the major derogations to reuse targets stipulates that if a Member State can report that it has over 85% recycling rate for specific packaging, such packaging is exempted to comply with reuse targets.”

Meanwhile, Policy & Research Support at Zero Waste Europe Raphaëlle Catté added that they believed recycling was being favoured over reuse. “The new derogations in Articles 22 and 26 question the whole foundation of EU waste law, namely the waste hierarchy,” ​said Catté.

“Recycling will not stop the waste problem, even with robust systems. It is worrying that not only right and far-right parties, but MEPs from all backgrounds yielded to lobbyist arguments.”

Aline Maigret, Head of Policy, concluded: “There is a need to respect the waste hierarchy by prioritising prevention and reuse first, as well as call for safe circularity in packaging, to achieve the ultimate goal of this regulation, which is to reduce waste.”

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