Waste Regulation : A position for the wrong century: European Parliament's vote on the PPWR

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© EU Parlament

On November 21, the European Parliament adopted its position on new EU-wide rules on packaging, to tackle constantly growing waste and, as it said: boost reuse and recycling. The proposal the European Commission presented to the Parliament and Council is very ambitious (read our article here). The position now adopted by the Parliament is a "watered-down" version, as non-profits such as Zero Waste Europe criticise.

Annex V, a list which itemised unnecessary packaging formats, suffered a major blow with extensive derogations proposed by the ITRE Committee and by a delegation of Italian MEPs. Packaging formats that were gutted include disposable plates and cups from dine-in restaurants, single-use packaging for fruit and vegetables, and single-use sauce and sugar tubs and sachets.

Though waste prevention targets were preserved at 5% by 2030, 10% by 2035, and 15% by 2040, the watered-down text excluded crucial mechanisms needed to actually reach those targets. The position included reuse targets with derogations, reflecting an outdated stance that goes against the waste hierarchy.

Aline Maigret, Head of Policy, states:

“We are dissatisfied with the decreased ambition in the text. Granting derogations and exemptions on waste prevention and reuse to ‘appease’ industry players is unacceptable and takes us even further from the ultimate goal of this revision: reducing packaging waste.”

One of the major derogations to reuse targets stipulates that if a Member State can report that its has over 85% recycling rate for specific packaging, such packaging is exempted to comply with reuse targets.

Raphaëlle Catté, Policy & Research Support, states:

“By favouring recycling over reuse, the new derogations in Articles 22 and 26 question the whole foundation of EU waste law, namely the waste hierarchy. Recycling will not stop the waste problem, even with robust systems. It is worrying that not only right and far-right parties, but MEPs from all backgrounds yielded to lobbyist arguments.”

Nathan Dufour, Reuse Systems Manager, states:

“A myriad of European start-ups and cities working on reusable systems for takeaway packaging will be disappointed to learn they are let down by the European Parliament who deleted reuse obligations for this sector. The hopes to defend their interests are now in the hands of the council.”

In terms of safe circularity, it is a win that the toxicity perspective is taken into account by proposing a ban on intentionally added 'forever chemicals' such as PFAS and Bisphenol A in food packaging. The proposal also includes measures to increase traceability and transparency regarding the use of all other substances of concern in packaging.

Dorota Napierska, Toxic-Free Circular Economy Policy Officer, states:

“Almost twenty years on, REACH and Food Contact Materials Regulations have failed to sufficiently protect human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals in various food packaging materials. That’s why today I find it encouraging to see that the European Parliament is acting with urgency on hazardous chemicals in food packaging. Today’s vote shows the extra ambition in tackling these chemicals, specifically in Article 5. When the PPWR proposal reaches the European Council next month, we hope it will keep ambition high and prioritise consumer safety, particularly for vulnerable groups.”

The Parliament voted against the introduction of a credit-based system for recycled content targets, which would have reduced transparency. However, while biobased plastics seemed to have been removed from the recycled content targets, the final vote lacks clarity.

Lauriane Veillard, Chemical Recycling and Plastic-to-Fuels Policy Officer, states:

“Amendment 461 excluded biobased plastic from meeting recycled content targets. However, Amendment 138 contains a provision which contradicts this by mixing biobased plastic with recycled feedstock. If such mixing of recycled and biobased plastic occurs, it will go against the definition of recycled content itself, which is defined as a result of a recycling process, while biobased plastic is simply virgin plastic. We need clarity on the final position of the European Parliament before the trialogue discussions start.”

Janek Vähk, Zero Pollution Policy Manager, states:

“We regret that the European Parliament failed to make mixed waste sorting mandatory. In order to meet the EU’s recycling targets, it is crucial to recover all recyclable packaging waste for recycling. Wherever packaging waste is not separately collected, sorting mixed waste is the only viable option to keep the material value of recyclable packaging in the circular economy. Therefore, sorting such waste should be mandatory (“shall”) and not just a voluntary option (“may”) for Member States.”

With a new Council of the EU presidency due in January 2024, negotiation extensions pose uncertainty for concluding this file within the current mandate. This demands swift action and a need to keep ambitions high to secure a deal before the upcoming elections next year.

Aline Maigret, Head of Policy, states:

“We urge the trilogues to keep the ambitions of the file high. There is a need to respect the waste hierarchy by prioristising prevention and reuse first, as well as call for safe circularity in packaging, to achieve the ultimate goal of this regulation, which is to reduce waste.”