EU Rules to Regulate Packaging

First Published: April 25, 2024

With packaging waste becoming an increasing problem, the EU Parliament has adopted new measures to make packaging more sustainable and reduce packaging waste in the community.

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

Reducing Packaging Waste

  • There are binding targets to reduce packaging waste by 5% by 2030, 10% by 2035, and 15% by 2040 compared to 2025 levels.
  • Specific reduction requirements for plastic packaging waste.
  • Limits on empty space ratios for grouped, transport, and e-commerce packaging to reduce unnecessary packaging.
  • Certain single-use plastic packaging, including fresh produce, restaurant/cafe packaging, condiment portions, hotel toiletries, and very lightweight plastic bags, will be banned from 2030 onward.
  • Restrictions on hazardous “forever chemicals” like PFAS in food contact packaging.

Promoting Reuse and Refill

  • 2030 targets for reusable beverage packaging, transport/sales packaging, and grouped packaging, with potential 5-year exemptions.
  • Requirements for beverage and food vendors to allow consumer-provided reusable containers.
  • A 10% reusable packaging target for final distributors by 2030.

Improving Recyclability and Recycling

  • Most packaging types must be recyclable by meeting strict design criteria.
  • Minimum recycled content targets for plastic packaging.
  • 90% separate collection target for single-use plastic and metal beverage containers up to 3L by 2029 via deposit return schemes or other solutions.
  • Increased overall recycling targets for packaging waste by weight.

The Effect of Lobbying

The new directive was first proposed in 2021, and the draft was published in 2022.

According to watchdog groups that track lobbying activity, plastic producers and consumer brand giants waged an intensive campaign over the past three years to influence the legislation. Groups like PlasticsEurope, representing major plastic manufacturers and brand owners like Coca-Cola and Nestlé, deployed small armies of lobbyists and spent millions pushing their agenda.

Critics charge that their lobbying blitz achieved three main victories that undercut the new rules’ environmental ambition:

Delaying Complete Plastic Phase-Out

The original proposal sought to ban all unnecessary single-use plastics by 2030. The final legislation pushes this deadline back to 2040 for some products. Corporations successfully argued they needed more time to develop affordable alternatives.

Weakening Recycled Content Targets

While the new rules set recycled content targets for plastic packaging, they fall short of what the European Parliament initially proposed. For example, plastic bottles will only need 30% recycled content by 2030 instead of 35%.

Creating Loopholes and Exemptions 

Several packaging types, like small plastics for fresh produce, received temporary exemptions from bans or targets after industry lobbying. Critics say these loopholes could undermine the legislation’s effectiveness.

What’s Next?

The new EU regulation still needs to be formally approved by the EU Council before it becomes law.

Further Reading

The EU Parlement Briefing Document:

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