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EU Tightens Packaging Laws to Curb Waste

The European Parliament has approved stringent new regulations to combat the escalating issue of packaging waste across the EU

In a robust legislative move, the European Parliament has ratified new regulations aimed at curtailing the growing menace of packaging waste across the bloc. The measures, which passed with a substantial majority, are designed to streamline market operations and foster a sustainable, circular economy.

Under the new rules, agreed upon provisionally with the Council, the EU has set ambitious targets to trim packaging waste—5% by 2030, expanding to 15% by 2040. These measures include a significant crackdown on plastic waste, with mandates to minimise the volume and weight of packaging, particularly for e-commerce and grouped goods. Notably, a cap on empty space within packaging has been set at 50%.

The legislation also spells the end for certain single-use plastic items by 2030, including disposable packaging for fresh produce and certain food and beverage services, alongside a ban on ultra-thin plastic bags. In a landmark move for public health, the use of persistent per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) in food packaging will be prohibited, surpassing certain thresholds.

Echoing a growing consumer trend, the directive encourages the uptake of reusable and refillable containers. By 2030, vendors of beverages and takeaway meals will be required to accommodate customers who opt to use their own containers, aiming to ensure that at least 10% of their offerings are in reusable formats.

The legislation also sets rigorous standards for recyclability across all packaging materials, with the exception of lightweight and non-traditional materials like wood and textile. Ambitious recycling targets have been set, including a 90% collection rate for single-use plastic and metal beverage containers by 2029.

Frédérique Ries, the rapporteur from the Renew group in Belgium, hailed the rules as a pioneering stride in environmental regulation. “This is the first instance where the EU has established reduction targets across all packaging materials,” she stated. “It’s a significant win for consumer health and an impetus for innovation across all sectors.”

The Council’s formal endorsement is pending before the regulations can be enacted. These changes come against a backdrop of escalating packaging waste volumes, which surged from 66 million tonnes in 2009 to 84 million tonnes in 2021. Without intervention, per capita waste is projected to rise from 188.7 kg in 2021 to 209 kg by 2030. This legislation is a direct response to citizen calls for greater sustainability and efficiency in materials use, aligning with broader EU goals to enhance circular economic practices and reduce environmental footprint.

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