In a significant move to address the rising tide of packaging waste in the EU, the European Council has reached a ‘general approach’ on a proposal for a regulation on packaging and packaging waste.

The agreement aims to harmonise the internal market for packaging and boost the circular economy while combating the increase in packaging waste.

The proposal was spearheaded by Teresa Ribera Rodríguez, Spain’s third Vice-President and Minister for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge.

In 2021, each European reportedly generated 190kg of packaging waste, and without intervention, this figure is projected to increase by nearly 20% in 2030.

Recognising this urgency, the approach signals the EU’s commitment to reducing and preventing packaging waste from all sources, providing a vital foundation for a circular economy and a climate-neutral Europe.

Comprehensive life cycle consideration

The proposed regulation takes a holistic approach to packaging, focusing on its entire life cycle. It mandates that all packaging must be safe and sustainable, with recyclability as a key criteria.

Labelling requirements are introduced to enhance consumer information, and the proposal seeks to minimise packaging waste generation by setting binding reuse targets and restricting certain single-use packaging types.

Key changes and targets

Sustainability and recyclable packaging

The council maintained the sustainability requirements and headline targets proposed by the European Commission.

Notably, it strengthened regulations on substances in packaging and clarified the conditions for packaging to be considered recyclable, effective from 2035.

Specific provisions were introduced for compostable packaging such as tea bags and sticky labels on fruits and vegetables.

Packaging waste reduction targets

Aligned with the commission’s proposal, the general approach establishes headline targets for reducing packaging waste: 5% by 2030, 10% by 2035, and 15% by 2040.

Member states can choose to go beyond these targets, and a comprehensive review is scheduled eight years after the regulation comes into force.

Reusable packaging and deposit return schemes

The council maintained its criteria for reusable packaging, introducing reuse targets for various categories.

Deposit return schemes are mandated by 2029, aiming for at least 90% annual collection of single-use plastic bottles and metal beverage containers.

Restrictions on certain packaging formats, exemptions, and flexibility in labelling systems are also part of the agreed provisions.

Next steps and background

The general approach serves as a mandate for negotiations with the European Parliament, with the final legislation expected to address challenges in the packaging and packaging waste sector.

The urgency stems from the sector’s economic complexity, generating a total turnover of €370bn ($405.45bn) in the EU.

Despite increased recycling rates, packaging waste has surged by 25% in the last decade, prompting the need for a comprehensive and updated regulatory framework.

In November 2022, the commission proposed the regulation to replace the existing EU packaging and packaging waste directive.

The European Parliament has adopted its position, and negotiations between the council and parliament are set to determine the final shape of the legislation under the Belgian presidency.

The proposed regulation holds the key to transforming Europe into a clean, sustainable, and circular economy, aligning with the European Green Deal’s vision.