The European Commission’s proposal for a Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) in November 2022 aimed to reduce packaging waste and promote a circular economy. However, the proposal has been criticised for not providing the necessary measures to enable companies to fully close the loop on their packaging.

The rigid approach to reuse in the proposal has raised concerns about jeopardising investments in recycling and the viability of many companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

MEP Frédérique Ries has proposed amendments that address these concerns, but further actions are still needed to achieve circularity and resource efficiency for beverage packaging.

Collection and access: key enablers for recycled content incorporation

The Single Use Plastics Directive and the PPWR have set a target of 30% recycled content for PET beverage bottles by 2030. However, meeting these targets requires access to an adequate quantity of recycled PET (rPET), which is currently lacking.

Most EU countries without a deposit and return system (DRS) face insufficient packaging collection while another issue is the downgrading of rPET bottles into non-recyclable applications.

Two crucial measures are needed to ensure rPET availability. Firstly, the mandatory deployment of DRS, which has shown 40% higher collection rates than standard extended producer responsibility schemes (EPRs), should be implemented across the EU two years before any recycled content targets take effect.

Secondly, beverage producers should have priority access to the recycled material from their bottles, both as a minimum requirement for DRS and for EPRs.

Flexibility and complementarity should apply to reuse content

 MEP Ries’s draft report introduces transformative measures for reusable packaging by lifting mandatory targets for individual producers. This approach considers practical and environmental aspects of the sector.

Shifting to reusable packaging requires significant investment from producers, but there is no guarantee that retailers will source products from every producer. This investment would compete with ongoing investments in closed-loop recycling and pose a threat to SMEs in the sector.

The environmental benefit of reuse versus closed-loop recycling depends on the context, particularly for natural mineral water and spring water producers in rural areas, where bottling at the source is essential due to the distance to the point of sale.

Allowing complementarity and flexibility between reuse and recycling, as suggested by MEP Patrizia Toia, would enable the industry to adopt a sensible path for reuse collectively.

Key principles of success

The natural mineral water business prioritises sustainability, including source protection and packaging circularity. While supporting the revision of packaging legislation, the Natural Mineral Water Europe (NMWE) association emphasises the need to safeguard the advances already included in MEP Ries’s draft report throughout the legislative process.

Achieving packaging sustainability requires collaboration between industry, policymakers and NGOs, with ambition, pragmatism and flexibility as key principles.