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Political agreement reached on EU rules for packaging and packaging waste

          EP and Council agreed in principle (4 March) on a new set of rules to make packaging more sustainable and reduce EU packaging waste. The current Directive, first adopted in 1994 and amended several times, has not succeeded in either reducing the negative environmental impacts of packaging or decreasing packaging waste – expected to increase by a further 19% by 2030. The agreement will now have to be formally endorsed by the two institutions. However, some countries, including Italy, have stressed there are further issues to be resolved before the final text is published – leaving the door open to opposition in the Council that could derail the deal.

          The agreement maintains the 2030 and 2040 targets for minimum recycled content in plastic packaging – for instance, 30% for single use plastic beverage bottles in 2030 and 65% by 2040 – but excludes packaging with less than 5% of plastic. Requirements for bio-based plastic packaging will be assessed three years after the legislation enters into force. Unnecessary packaging is also tackled, requiring manufacturers and importers to minimise the weight and volume of packaging.  As regards re-use obligations, the agreement introduces new targets for 2030 and ‘indicative’ targets for 2040 that vary according to packaging type of – excluding wine, milk and other perishable beverages, as well as cardboard packaging. Micro-enterprises – that is, businesses employing fewer than 10 people – are exempt from all these targets.

          Lawmakers have been heavily lobbied during the process by industry and third-country governments demanding exemptions for specific sectors – and they have been, on many occasions, successful. Japan, for instance, managed to exclude sake from requirements to put at least 10% of products in reusable or refillable containers, arguing sake bottles have a different shape that would make them difficult to reuse in Europe. This pressure has been heavily criticised by environmental NGOs, who foresee the new Regulation will increase waste. While plastic will be, in theory, heavily regulated, loopholes in the legislation will allow for an increase of paper-based packaging – which often also includes plastic – and, therefore, an increased need for pulp imports. This will pose a conflict of interest with the deforestation law.