The discussion to put an end to wasteful packaging has been triggered by the EU’s ambition to contribute to a green and circular economy and reach climate neutrality by 2050; through sustainable, zero-polluting and resource-efficient measures. The amount of packaging waste, used for protecting and safely transporting goods from one location to another, is unnecessarily growing at a very fast pace, shifting from a functional to a superfluous purpose. Since consumers are willing to stop excessive overpackaging and bulky packaging, industries are promoting a wasteless change in how an item is packed, what materials are used in packaging, and how much material is needed for a product to be safely taken to the end client. In this regard, the European Commission has, too, given its input.
What does the Proposal entail?
Through newly proposed EU rules, on the 30th of November 2022, the European Commission introduced better means of tackling the growing source of waste and consumer frustration. The proposal brings clarity for consumers and for the industry, by ensuring more sustainable ways of packaging and reducing waste generated from the packaging of products. An evaluation of reducing unnecessary packaging, limiting overpacking, having available reusable packaging options and supporting better recycling mechanisms are at the forefront of the Proposal. Moreover, more new business opportunities will be created for companies decreasing the need for raw materials, boosting their recycling capacity and also ensuring that the EU becomes less dependent on primary resources and external suppliers.
The proposal also includes a revision of the EU Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste, which has three main objectives.
To prevent the generation of packaging waste, the first step must be to reduce it in its quantity, by restricting packaging that is not necessary and promoting instead, reusable and refillable packaging solutions. Following the reuse, boosting high-quality recycling is the second phase to terminate wasteful packaging. Through a closed-loop system, all packaging in the EU market will be recyclable by 2030, in an economically viable manner, meaning that less waste will be generated with a lesser dependency on raw materials. The third solution is reducing the need for primary natural resources, creating a well-functioning market for secondary raw materials and increasing the use of recycled plastics.
The main target involved would certainly be the cut of packaging waste by 15% by 2040 aimed at every Member State, per capita, compared to waste levels in 2018. In this way, the overall waste generated in the EU would be around 37%, based on both reuse and recycling measures. Companies will have to, additionally, offer a number of their products in reusable or refillable packaging to their consumers, having a better level of standardisation of packaging formats and clear labelling of reusable packaging.
Further, some forms of disposable packaging, such as single-use packaging for foods and drinks at restaurants, or for fruit and vegetables at a supermarket, would be completely banned, because they can be easily replaced by more sustainable means. Another goal of having packaging fully recyclable by 2030, including having a set criterion on packaging, creating a mandatory deposit return system for plastic bottles and cans, and increasing biowaste and compost bins, would once again assist in the fight against the excessive generation of waste from its wrapping and overall packaging.
There are also further studies being carried out on the usage of biobased, compostable and biodegradable plastics, and turning recycled plastic into more valuable raw materials in other sectors. This would present better clarity on how plastics should be designed, disposed of and recycled.
What are the advantages?
The reduction of wasteful packaging in the EU has numerous benefits for the environment. The amount of greenhouse gas emissions and water use would reduce drastically since less energy and water as a resource is needed to produce, handle and store packaging, and dispose of it as non-decomposable waste. Plastic pollution will be less of a burden to the environment, and hence, biodiversity degradation and food chain disruption will also eventually return to a neutral standard. Job creations in the Union would have a positive turnout due to the boost in reuse and recycling plants as well as the increase of businesses invested in the innovation of newly designed ‘green’ packaging solutions, implementing the above proposals and putting them into practice.
The European Commission’s proposal is definitely a step in the right direction to embark on the journey toward the reduction of waste in the EU. Through legislative reform, and the active promotion of reuse and recycling of packaging, individuals remain ‘waste self-conscious’; they are personally more aware of the consequences of buying items that are wasteful in their packaging means.
When purchasing items, it is clear that many of the packaging is avoidable, whereas other materials can be a better option for the environment, compared to the single-use options, whilst still offering the primary purpose of product protection and storage.
Further awareness on this subject must be coupled with a non-greenwashing approach; therefore, consumers must not be given a false impression through misleading information on the alleged ‘green’ impact of that product and its packaging. A shift in the mindset of EU citizens when purchasing goods and products of this kind, is the way forward to promote the overall reduction in waste packaging.
Awareness on the subject is important but still not effective enough alone to combat the issue of waste, especially in relation to packaging and the materials used. For instance, more education on how to recycle the packaging after its use in the household and in small communities promotes the salvaging of the materials. Better infrastructure is needed locally, such as increasing the number of recycling bins around areas where it is more common for dumping to occur, reducing waste from packaging in the long term. Community events such as clean-ups organised by national authorities, and NGOs, as well as managing better initiatives to reduce dumping of waste, like a free line to report litter dumps instilling a greener, more conscious behaviour of citizens. A new market in that community may be set up to encourage the selling of recycled materials, essentially turning waste into economic wealth and a creative business venture. Finally, a noteworthy idea would also be to look into a system where more rules are set up within the Union to introduce limitations on exporting waste to other Member States. This in turn would incentivise the Country producing the waste to better tackle, and hopefully solve, their issue without placing the burden on other States, who are also managing the issue in their own capacity.
All in all, disposable products have certainly become a notion of the past and it is important to observe the EU contributing to the effort to combat waste production and generation, through further awareness, education and legislative promotion of the 3R’s in the sector of packaging.
 Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions EU policy framework on biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics
 European Parliament and Council Directive 94/62/EC of 20 December 1994 on packaging and packaging waste
 For instance, similar to Malta’s new beverage container refund scheme (BCRS) system; in which the price of a plastic bottle has increased by 10c, as a form of deposit system, so that once you recycle the bottle properly, the 10c is given back to the purchaser.
 Meaning the principle of reducing waste, reusing it and/or recycling resources and products