A chance to save the packaging rulebook

A chance to save the packaging rulebook

November 14, 2023
A chance to save the packaging rulebook

Exactly three weeks ago, on October 24, MEPs in the European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted on the draft EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). Unfortunately, whilst making some marked improvements and important clarifications to the European Commission’s initial draft, the version adopted in Committee still failed in a number of its basic aims, which are to set strong and fair rules for cutting packaging across the EU.

The draft PPWR now includes egregious favouritism for some economic sectors and discriminates against others. And, if agreed in plenary, for some sectors it would lead to more, not less packaging. It would be unfair not just to brewers but also to the environment.

But this is not the end of the story. MEPs can correct the situation. Tomorrow, at 1pm CET on 15 November, is the deadline for groups of MEPs to table amendments. Then when the full European Parliament meets at its plenary in Strasbourg next week, all MEPs will have the vote. They should seize this moment to save the packaging rulebook.

What is wrong with the PPWR as it stands?

The ENVI Committee version locks in discrimination amongst different alcoholic beverage sectors when it comes to packaging reuse targets and mandatory participation in national deposit return systems (DRS).

The Parliament’s current draft of the PPWR sets targets of 10% for 2030 and 25% for 2040 for the percentage of alcoholic beverages that should be made available in reusable packaging (Article 26, paragraph 3), but grants a full exemption to wine and sparkling wines!

This exemption is unfair from both a market and an environmental perspective. There is no objective justification for a sector-wide exemption that introduces regulatory discrimination amongst competing alcoholic beverage sectors – the exemption (in Article 26, paragraph 3) should simply be removed!

Furthermore, the ENVI Committee text failed to remove the unjustified exemption from participation in deposit return systems (DRS) given to wines, aromatised wines and spirit drinks (Article 44 and Recital 104). The discrimination is maintained even though glass is already excluded from DRS and the focus is solely on metal cans and plastic bottles.

This is wrong. A can is a can and there can be no explanation why it should be part of the recycling collection system if it contains beer but the same can should be excluded if it contains a spirit-mixed drink or a wine, as is increasingly the case at some events. Indeed, the European Commission’s recital for the PPWR proposal only makes a vague and general reference to differences in the nature, production and distribution of the exempted products versus other alcoholic beverages.

There is no objective justification for the exemption and this favouritism goes against the EU’s basic principles of a free and fair Single Market. There is no defence for such a measure – this exemption (in Article 44 and Recital 104) should simply be deleted.

Of course, some exemptions can be granted – if they are based on objective criteria related to the packaging itself.

This is the case for reuse targets in situations where recycling collection systems are already well established, high performing in terms of the percentage of containers being collected and recycled and an objective environmental case can be made that the existing recycling collection system is the best solution for the environment.

For the same reason, in situations where existing reusable packaging return systems are already working to a high standard, it is critical to reinforce them rather than start fiddling with the model that has enabled them to reach such high performance levels.

However, what exemptions must not do is lead to unjustified discrimination. This is why MEPs should act in the next ten days to close the loopholes. We need strong rules that cut wasteful and needless packaging. And we need them to be fair!