Time for Member States to secure an ambitious, yet realistic EU packaging law

By Nicholas Hodac, Director General of UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe


On 22 November, the European Parliament sent strong positive signals to EU citizens and businesses when it voted on its amendments to the proposal for an EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). Encouragingly, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) supported measures that promote the circularity of beverage packaging and respect the complementary role of recycling and reuse. Member States should adopt a similar position to help the industry achieve the EU’s circularity ambitions.

Our sector, the European soft drinks sector represented by UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe, is committed to accelerating the transition to a circular economy in Europe with the right enablers in the PPWR.


Priority access to recyclates is a must

It was very encouraging to see MEPs support a priority access right to recyclates to enable closed-loop recycling whenever it makes sense. This is an essential enabler to the recycling of our packaging. Why?

PET beverage bottles are the only sources authorised by current EU legislation that we can use to incorporate recycled PET in new PET beverage bottles. Without proper access to the recycled content coming from these beverage bottles, it will be extremely challenge to meet the EU’s mandatory recycled content targets as well as our own voluntary ambition to incorporate more recycled content in all our packaging.

The only way to address this and make sure that our beverage packaging is recycled in closed loops, when technologically feasible and when it makes sense from an environmental perspective, is to create a priority access right to the feedstock for recycling which enables closed-loop recycling. Priority access will also drive innovation as it will encourage other sectors to invest in the collection and recycling of their own products, ultimately contributing to a more circular economy.

A priority access right is already in place in Sweden and in Slovakia and will soon be part of the Austrian DRS where it has been integrated into national law. Member States should secure this principle in the PPWR to make it a reality across Europe.


Recognising reuse and recycling as complementary solutions is the way to go

MEPs’ support for the complementarity between recycling and reuse with the creation of well-designed exemptions from the reuse targets was a right step toward respecting well-functioning waste management and recycling systems.

Our sector supports reuse and is already making significant investments in reusable solutions. Yet, reuse cannot be scaled up blindly. It should be implemented in the right way. This means that reusable packaging should only be introduced where and when it brings more environmental benefits than recyclable packaging. That’s why exemptions mechanisms to the reuse targets are needed. These mechanisms also recognise the impressive environmental effectiveness of well-established waste management systems, such as DRS, around Europe.

We therefore urge Member States to support well-designed exemptions from the reuse targets.


Maintaining Mandatory Deposit and Return Systems (DRS) is crucial

DRS have a key role to play in achieving a circular economy for beverage packaging. European countries with long-established DRS usually report collection rates up to 95% and countries that have recently implemented DRS (Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Malta) already see high collection rates on the way to 90%.

Given current collection performances in other parts of the EU, many Member States are unlikely to achieve their EU collection targets without setting up a DRS. The absence of well-performing collection schemes in every Member State would also jeopardise the EU recycling and recycled content targets.

DRS are one of the most efficient options for meeting these targets but also for creating a closed-loop recycling system ensuring that the material collected can be recycled in new beverage containers.

For these reasons, the obligation to set up a DRS in each Member State should be maintained in the EU PPWR and the only exemptions provided should be based on similar very high collection rates achieved by other EPR schemes.


Let’s regulate for the future and promote innovation in reusable and refillable systems

MEPs rightly supported systems enabling refill for the achievement of the reuse and refill targets, expressing support for a PPWR that promotes innovation in refill solutions and takes into account all available reusable and refill solutions.

Systems enabling refill, such as home soda dispensers and refill stations in stores and in the horeca industry, are recognised by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as reuse models. They have a role to play in responding to new consumer needs and helping to reduce packaging as they use little to no packaging.

Member States should follow the lead of the European Commission and the European Parliament and regulate for the future by making systems enabling refill count towards the achievement of the reuse and refill targets.


Members States are expected to adopt their position on the proposed PPWR at the Environment Council on December 18. Our sector looks forward to further strengthening engagement with decision-makers to advance the efforts in creating a realistic PPWR that will bring about positive outcomes for the environment, consumers and businesses.

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