In a recent policy debate on the proposed revision of EU legislation on packaging and packaging waste, Environment ministers from the European Union’s 27 member states, were invited to offer their views on the ambition of the proposal.

The Commission’s aim is to reduce packaging waste by 15% by 2040 per member state per capita and to make all packaging on the EU market recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030. The aim of the debate was to give political guidance to the work within the Council.

Romina Pourmokhtari, chair of the meeting of EU Ministers in Brussels, outlined the challenge Europe is facing regarding packaging and packaging waste.

“During the last ten years, the amount of packaging waste has increased by more than 20% and is expected to increase by another almost 20% until 2030 unless no action is taken. For plastic packaging waste, the expected increase is for 46% by 2030. To address this alarming situation, the Commission put forward a proposal for a new regulation on packaging and packaging waste, which aims to strengthen the current packaging directive and prevent the generation of packaging waste, boost high quality recycling and create a market for secondary raw materials.”

A team of “experts” examined current proposals in December last year, and Pourmokhtari told Ministers that “substantial progress has already been made”. She added that several key issues for further negotiations at the technical level have been identified, in addition to two key topics that she said would benefit from political guidance by the Council for further progress in the negotiations.

“Firstly, the overall level of ambition and secondly, the measures and innovative solutions to foster packaging waste prevention.”

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She concluded: “There is no denying that this text is ambitious, but it matches the gravity of the situation we are facing. There is a need to effectively address, without delay, the increasing volume of packaging waste.”

The consensus amongst Ministers invited to offer their views was concern that the proposal law will undermine existing national recycling systems already in place.

Italy’s Environment Minister, Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, led the floor, agreeing with an “ambitious approach” when it comes to regulating the waste packaging sector.

However, he added: “Prescribing methods and solutions that a one size fits all for all members states without any kind of differentiation on the basis of the conditions and circumstances in each member state when it comes to the sorting of waste and the recycling targets, we just don’t think it’s the best solution. What is important is to have ambitious shared targets but leaving member states the room for manoeuvre in terms of achieving them.”

Austria’s Environment Minister, Leonore Gewessler, offered a similar view. She agreed with the Commission on the need for a “game-changer”, but she expressed concern over the legal form being pursued.

“This regulation interferes with national measures which are already up and running, and they therefore remove legal certainty, and I think we are going to have lots of questions around what the effects will be on deposit systems which are already being set up in member states for bottles and containers, for example. This is just one example where I really am convinced that a directive is the right legal form for this.

“We want to move forward in an ambitious way, and this is a really visible sign of doing something for the environment, that our citizens can actually understand, and it’s important, therefore, to put forward an ambitious package but the devil is in the detail, so it will all depend on the legal form the directive takes.”

The European Commission’s proposed regulation replaces the existing Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste 94/62/EC, which it says no longer adequately addresses accelerating trends in EU packaging waste generation. The Commission believes the new regulation will achieve greater harmonisation.

Belgian Environment Minister, Zakia Khattabi, was one of a number of ministers to disagree with this choice, instead preferring a directive.

“We think that the choice of a legal instrument is not appropriate. Aside from the financial impact and the administrative burden that leads on from this, the wish to have harmonisation on all points will lead to the creation of an inefficient system. It won’t help us to achieve our objectives, because it will be far from taking into account the cultural and national specificities and investments, and that will also curb those states that are frontrunners in this area.

“In order to avoid any of these pitfalls we think a directive is the right instrument. It will be ambitious, but it will also offer member states the necessary margin for manoeuvre.”

EU Environment Commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevičius, acknowledged that some of the measures proposed have raised some concerns, particularly regarding the impact on existing systems.

“The reality is that the huge packaging challenges we are facing require a real game changer. We can achieve the transition to a more sufficient packaging and waste sector only by using the leverage of our single market. Only with directly applicable, harmonised provisions at product level, and to this, the legal instrument of regulation is the best means.”