Securing priority access to recyclates is a must in EU packaging planInes
By Patricia Fosselard, Secretary General of Natural Mineral Waters Europe, and Nicholas Hodac, Director General of UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe
In the pursuit of a more sustainable future, we, the European natural mineral waters and soft drinks industries are enhancing our packaging material efficiency, investing in lightweighting solutions and recyclability, and setting up efficient collection and recycling systems, such as Deposit and Return Systems (DRS).
These considerable investments are not only a testament to our unwavering commitment to environmental stewardship, but they are also vital if we are to meet the EU’s mandatory recycled content targets for our sectors. Under the current EU regimes for recycled plastic in food contact, only recycled PET (rPET) is authorised. Therefore, securing a stable supply of rPET for our sectors is more than a reasonable measure: it’s essential to meet ambitious recycled content targets.
While we are making all efforts to deliver circular beverage packaging, we are facing a major issue: the downcycling of PET beverage bottles. According to a 2022 study by Eunomia and Zero Waste Europe, a substantial portion of PET beverage bottles collected for recycling (approximately 68%) is downcycled into other PET product applications, such as polyester textiles, automobiles or toys, from which they cannot be recycled back into rPET. This breaks the recycling loop and restricts the overall rPET supply. Our sector has learned that the resultant price volatility can seriously delay investments in recycling, particularly on the part of our hundreds of SMEs.
To address this challenge, the EU should grant priority access to industries building closed-loop recycling models by financing the collection and recycling of their materials and incorporating them back into similar applications. The European Parliament’s Committee on Environment (ENVI) supported such a right in its report on the proposal for an EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). We now ask all MEPs to take this same approach and secure a priority access principle in the vote in plenary on the PPWR, planned for the end of November.
Priority access brings two key benefits: It promotes closed-loop recycling where technically possible, and it provides manufacturers with reliable access to recycled materials, enabling them to achieve ambitious recycled content targets. We are not asking for uniquely special treatment. The principles of a priority access right should apply universally to any sector committed to investing in closed-loop recycling.
Prioritising closed-loop recycling models is not only fair but also an important incentive towards design-for-recycling practices. We understand this from our sector’s experience working towards a closed-loop model. This approach will encourage other sectors to invest in the collection and recycling of their own products, ultimately contributing to a more circular economy.
Any new model can meet some initial resistance, but it’s important to understand that a priority access right does not stifle innovation or reduce incentives for recyclers to expand their recycling capacities. On the contrary, it should encourage recyclers to collaborate with partner sectors to develop new closed-loop systems, each with efficient collection and a stable supply of recycled material.
In fact, the beverage sector is a pioneering case study showing that a priority access right works in practice. Sweden and Slovakia have already implemented such a right (authorised by national authorities), and it has also been approved by Austrian law and will be integrated into its DRS, which will be launched soon. These examples demonstrate its real-world feasibility and effectiveness.
We ask for MEPs’ support for a priority access right in plenary. Let’s work towards a more circular future for our planet and for consumers, where every industry plays its part in reducing waste and conserving resources.