PPWR Explained: How the new EU packaging rules will impact the European soft drink sector

By Delphine Close, UNESDA Senior Public Affairs Manager

 

4 March marked a milestone for packaging and packaging waste management in Europe: the negotiators from the European Parliament and Council of the EU reached a deal on amendments to the European Commission’s draft proposal for a Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (also known as ‘’PPWR’’).

This agreement was then endorsed a few days later by the Council’s Committee of Permanent Representatives (“EU Ambassadors”) and by the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, and on 24 April by the European Parliament’s plenary.

After some final checks by the EU lawyer-linguists, and a final approval by the new EU Parliament (to be elected in June) and EU Environment Ministers by late 2024, the EU PPWR will then be published in the Official Journal of the EU and officially enter into force.

 

But what does it mean for the European soft drinks industry?

The PPWR aims to considerably reduce packaging and packaging waste in Europe thanks to the adoption of a series of measures, going from design requirements to market restrictions.

While most of those measures will impact the future of soft drinks packaging, there are three areas which trigger our sector’s particular interest: packaging collection, recycling and reuse.

Indeed, those areas also represent the cornerstones of UNESDA’s Circular Packaging Vision for 2030. As such, the PPWR includes several key enablers to make this vision a reality.

Let’s deep dive into those!  

 

PPWR and DRS: another acronym, really?!

First things first, it is impossible to address recycling and reuse before first touching upon what the text foresees for the collection of our packaging.

It starts relatively simply: the text sets a 90% collection target by 2029 for beverage plastic bottles and aluminium cans in every EU Member State, thereby building on the objectives already set out in the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD).

But the text does not stop there and mandates Member States to set up a Deposit and Return System (or DRS) to achieve the target.

In every Member State? No, the text actually foresees an exemption from the obligation to set up a DRS for countries achieving an 80% collection rate by 2026 via another collection mechanism. This however does not exempt those countries to meet the 90% collection target by 2029.

The text also provides guidance to Member States, in the form of minimum requirements, on how to set up such DRS. Again, a derogation from those minimum requirements is foreseen for any DRS established before the entry into force of the PPWR, as long as they achieve a 90% collection rate. If they don’t, they need to comply with the minimum requirements by 2035 at the latest.

All packaging covered by a DRS will also need to be marked with a “clear and unambiguous” label. An EU harmonised DRS label will be developed but it will be up to Member States to decide to use it or not, in addition to the national label. Finally, contrary to other packaging, “DRS-packaging” won’t have to bear any label indicating the material composition of the packaging.

 

Bottle-to-bottle recycling: the way to go

With all packaging designed for recycling and most of it being collected, comes the question of what to do with it to avoid valuable material being landfilled or incinerated.

There, the PPWR sets a series of targets to incorporate more recycled content in packaging by 2030 and 2040.

For single-use plastic beverage bottles, those targets are set at 30% by 2030 (as already defined by the Single-Use Plastics Directive – SUPD) and at 65% by 2040.

Beside the 2040 target, what’s new compared to the SUPD is that the targets won’t be calculated as an average of the recycled content placed on the market of a Member States but will be calculated as an average per type and format of packaging, and per manufacturing plant. Another major difference is that the different recycled content targets apply to any plastic part of a packaging. In the case of a plastic beverage bottle, for example, the body of the bottle itself is usually made of PET, but the closure (= the cap) is often made of other plastics (PP or HDPE) for which other targets apply: 10% for contact sensitive plastic other than PET by 2030, and 25% by 2040.

This is obviously a big challenge because there is currently no approved mechanical recycling technology allowing the recycling of plastic caps into new contact sensitive (= food grade) plastic caps. How is the industry going to cope with that issue? Hopefully, we will find out before 2030…

You may wonder whether there is any derogation foreseen for those small parts. There is actually one, for any plastic part representing less than 5% of the total weight of the whole packaging unit. We’re saved, you say? No, unfortunately with all the lightweighting efforts from our industry to reduce packaging, plastic bottle caps are often exceeding this 5% threshold.

Finally, you are probably astonished by the fact that I managed to say so much about recycled content without mentioning the access issue. Don’t worry, neither I nor the revised PPWR forgot about the need to ensure availability of plastic feedstock for recycling. The text mandates comprehensive collection and sorting infrastructures and adds that such infrastructures may provide priority access to recycled materials for use in applications where the distinct quality of the recycled material is preserved or recovered in such a way that it can be recycled further and used in the same way and for a similar application. In a nutshell, it provides for the possibility to set up systems that enable beverage bottle-to-bottle or can-to-can recycling in a closed-loop system.

This is a key enabler to ensure those financing the collection for recycling can meet their recycled content targets by getting access to sufficient recycled material instead of competing with other sectors which do not necessarily have to comply with the same requirements.

 

What about reuse (or is it re-use?)?

Recycling is not the only thing you can do once the packaging is collected. The PPWR actually contains several articles dedicated to the reuse of packaging.

When it comes to beverages, one of the most far-reaching measure is a mandatory reuse target of 10% reusable packaging to be achieved by final distributors (e.g. retailers and HORECA) by 2030.

A target of 40% is also set for 2040 but this one is aspirational, set on all economic operators (not only final distributors) and to be confirmed by an impact assessment.

Most beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) are covered by those targets with the exception of those considered as highly perishable, milk, milk products and their dairy analogies, wine and alcohol-based spirituous beverages.

Systems enabling refill (such as dispensers) have been in and out of the text until the final agreement was reached. Unfortunately, the reuse targets set on beverages will only be achievable through the traditional returnable refillable beverage containers (such as glass and PET reusable bottles), which represents a missed opportunity to push for further innovation in packaging reduction and refill systems

The concept of “refill” is however not completely absent from the Regulation. Take-away businesses will have the obligation to offer customers the possibility of using their own containers at no additional charge. This will apply to cold and hot beverages as well as ready-prepared food intended for immediate consumption. By 2030, they will also have to aim at offering 10% of those products in packaging formats suitable for re-use.

It should also be noted that the reuse targets are designed as “de minimis” targets, which provides the flexibility to Member States to set higher targets if justified to reach their waste prevention targets.

Finally, the reuse chapter of the PPWR makes no exception and an exemption mechanism is also foreseen. Member States may (they don’t have to) exempt economic operators for a period of 5 years (renewable) under the following conditions:

  1. the exempting Member State reaches 5 percentage points above the targets for recycling to be achieved per material by 2025 and is expected to reach 5 percentage points above the 2030 targets (according to a report published by 2027);
  2. the exempting Member State is on track to fulfil its waste prevention targets and can demonstrate to have reached at least 3% waste prevention by 2028 compared to the 2018 baseline;
  3. the economic operators have adopted a corporate waste prevention and recycling plan that contributes to achieving the waste prevention and recycling objectives of the Regulation.

The first condition means that paper and cardboard packaging, plastic packaging, wooden packaging, metallic packaging and glass packaging would all need to reach 5 percentage points above their respective recycling targets by 2025 to potentially unlock an exemption in the Member State where those rates have been achieved. No need to say: this will be extremely difficult to achieve.

 

What’s next? Be ready to hear about the PPWR until at least 2038!

I can tell you one thing: this is not the last time you hear about the PPWR.

Indeed, the process is far from being over given that the PPWR includes more than 40 pieces of secondary legislation (delegated or implementing acts) and follow-up actions (reports, evaluations, reviews, assessments, guidance, standards etc.) for the coming years (from 2026 to 2038).

This means a lot of details still to be defined and a broad margin of maneuver for further adaptations to the text based on the numerous reviews and assessments planned.

Stay tuned for more PPWR-related content!

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