EC Draft Packaging Waste Regulation to have major impact on the food sector

A proposal from the European Commission setting out the details of a new European Parliament and Council regulation covering packaging and packaging waste, replacing the existing Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive 94/62/EC has been considered by Defra in an Explanatory Memorandum last month EM_15581-22_.pdf (

The proposed EU measures, Proposal Packaging and Packaging Waste ( many of which are entirely new, are wide-ranging, with their introduction phased and subject to tightening over several years. They introduce requirements over the entire lifecycle of packaging as regards its environmental sustainability. The intended overarching objective of the proposed Regulation is to reduce packaging waste in the first instance, improve recyclability and grow the market for recycled content

The draft proposed Regulation introduces new standards regarding the composition and recyclability of packaging, including minimum recycled content targets for plastic packaging. There is a new requirement for certain packaging formats, including filter coffee pods, sticky labels attached to fruit and vegetables and very lightweight plastic carrier bags to be compostable within 24 months of the entry into force of the Regulation.

Packaging should also be marked with a label containing information on its material composition in order to facilitate consumer sorting and recycling ie harmonised labelling. Member states are to produce a specific chapter in their waste management plan for packaging.

There are specific targets related to packaging re-use and minimisation with a requirement that packaging is conceived, designed and placed on the market with the objective to be re-used or refilled a maximum number of times. Reusable packaging will be required to bear a QR code or other type of data carrier giving access to the relevant information facilitating its re-use. There is a new requirement that member states take steps to encourage the increase of systems to enable re-use.

The draft proposed Regulation continues the existing requirement that member states establish suitable mechanisms for the collection, treatment and recycling of packaging waste and introduces a requirement for the establishment of a deposit return system for single-use plastic beverage bottles and single-use metal and aluminium beverage containers with a capacity of up to three litres. Packaging containing wine, spirits, milk and milk products will be excluded.

Through the Environment Act, the UK Government is currently already bringing in a wide range of measures to tackle plastic pollution and litter, including:

However, the EU proposed Regulation, if followed, will require additional legislation at UK level.

The UK Explanatory Memorandum states that it is anticipated that most global manufacturers will choose to meet the new EU conformity assessment requirements to continue to place packaging on the EU market and that UK based manufacturers are likely to do the same. 

There already has been some controversy in relation to the proposal in that it is disputed the whole life cycle of the product may be taken into account, whether there may be incidental waste, particularly food waste as a result, the level of support that may be provided, and if alternatives to single use plastic may indeed be more or less beneficial to the environment.

However, even if amendments were made over the coming 18 months, this proposal will still represent a seismic shift into defined recycling requirements, specific targets and mandatory standards across Europe by way of the use of a Regulation. 

It is likely as the UK memorandum points out that even companies outside the EU market are likely to follow these requirements.  It is recommended companies affected should take a proactive approach engaging across their sector and with trade associations and other third parties to collate information and provide for and plan their response and future developments. Via the use of strategic impact assessments, businesses may best understand their packaging portfolios and be able to develop robust packaging strategies that will contribute to the overall objective of the draft regulation . 

What next?

Stakeholders have until 27 February 2023 to submit their views on the proposal to the Commission: Reducing packaging waste – review of rules (

The proposal is likely to undergo substantial changes as part of the legislative process

Summary of Current Proposed Key Measures include:

• A ban on certain formats including single use packaging for condiments, preserves, sauces and sugar, and hotel miniature toiletry products (Article 22 and Annex V). The Commission can update the list of banned formats through delegated acts.

• Targets for packaging waste reduction and mandatory reuse or refill targets in sectors such as retail and catering. Packaging must for example be conceived and designed with the objective of being reused or refilled as many times as possible (Article 10).

• EU-wide standards for "over-packaging". This includes a maximum allowable empty space in e-commerce packaging and a ban on certain forms of unnecessary packaging (Article 21). The weight and volume of packaging must be minimised; false bottoms and double walls are banned unless they are necessary for the performance of the packaging (Article 9). Space filled with bubble wrap, polystyrene or other material will be considered empty space.

• Design criteria for all packaging to increase recycling rates. From 1 January 2030 packaging will have to comply with the design for recycling criteria and from 1 January 2035 the requirements will be further adjusted to ensure that recyclable packaging is sufficiently and effectively collected, sorted and recycled (Article 6). The Commission is tasked with adopting delegated acts to introduce a new grading system to classify packaging according to its design for recycling.

• Targets for minimum recycled content in most forms of secondary plastic packaging from 1 January 2030 of between 10% and 35% depending on the use of the packaging (Article 7).

• New targets for reduction of packaging waste of 5%, 10% and 15% by 2030, 2035 and 2040 respectively, while the pre-existing recycling and recovery targets for individual materials (by 2025 and 2030) are retained.

• Mandatory deposit return system (DRS) for single use plastic drinks bottles and aluminium cans (with a capacity up to three litres) (Article 44).

• Mandatory compostability for some packaging types, where composting is environmentally beneficial. Filter coffee pods, sticky labels attached to fruit and vegetables and very lightweight plastic carrier bags for example must be compostable 24 months after the entry into force of the Regulation (Article 8).

• Labels on all packaging to facilitate correct waste sorting by consumers, and the same labels will appear on recycling bins to make it clear where to put each type of packaging (Articles 11 and 12). Reusable packaging will have a QR code or similar to access information that will facilitate its reuse. The Commission will establish harmonised labels through implementing acts


Some exemptions include:

• Micro companies ie companies with a sales area of less than 100 square metres (including all storage and dispatch areas), or to companies that do not place more than 1000kg of packaging on the market during a calendar year. (Article 26)

• The rules on excessive packaging will not apply to companies that use sales packaging as e-commerce packaging. (Article 21)

• Where packaging design is subject to geographical indications (GIs) of origin protected under EU legislation, it is exempt from the rules regarding packaging minimisation. (Article 9)

• The DRS does not apply to wine, aromatised wine products, spirit drinks and milk products. (Article 44)

• Immediate packaging of medicinal products, veterinary medicinal products, and contact sensitive plastic packaging of medical devices and in vitro medical devices are exempt from the recyclability requirements until 2034 for health and safety reasons. (Article 6) These same products are also exempt from the minimum recycled content requirements for plastic packaging. (Article 7)

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