Parliament trashes EU hopes to reduce packaging waste, siding with  throwaway industry

The European Parliament voted on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation proposal issued by the European Commission in November 2022. The proposal sought to reduce record levels of packaging waste in Europe. Intimidated by unprecedented lobbying, parliament voted to delete almost all provisions to tackle unnecessary packaging, as well as most of  the reuse targets for 2040. Some reuse targets (e.g. for beverages) were lowered but retained, and  accompanied by broad derogations, making the reuse targets virtually ineffective sending a massively negative signal to the nascent reuse sector and circular economy frontrunners.

These choices directly give into false claims, scaremongering, and intense lobbying from the most wasteful industries, decimating any ambition necessary to prevent waste. After the Environment committee, the lead parliamentary committee on this file, already watered down the ambition of the proposal in October, the Plenary dealt the final blow to provisions needed to deal with the packaging waste crisis. 

While support for measures to make all packaging recyclable will help to boost stagnant recycling levels in the Union, they will do nothing to reduce record levels of waste generation. 

The fast-food lobby and single use packaging industries will be celebrating the hypocrisy of the EU, which claims to be a global leader on the implementation of a circular economy. Notably MEPs deleted provisions which would limit the use of single use packaging when dining in the largest restaurants as well as wrapping fruit and vegetables where it is not necessary to protect them. 

A tiny glimmer of consolation are the overarching waste prevention targets secured for Member States (to reduce total levels of packaging waste by 5% by 2030 and 15% by 2040) to set a direction of travel for the packaging industry. Additionally, a long overdue ban on the use of  PFAS- and BPA – highly toxic and persistent substances – in food packaging was added by Parliament. 

Now the Member States in Council must adopt an ambitious mandate on reuse and packaging waste prevention in order to redress the course of this important policy. The regulation is expected to enter trilogues in the beginning of 2024 with only a limited amount of time to adopt the text before the European elections. 

“Faced with record levels of waste, MEPs chose to side with throw-away packaging producers and fast food giants. Deleting provisions which would simultaneously reduce waste, scale up reuse and create new economic opportunities for Europe – they served the interest of polluters today. While the EU claims to be leading the way towards a circular economy, its lawmakers did not even have the courage to stop fruit being unnecessarily wrapped in plastic or to promote the use of plates in restaurants.”

Marco Musso, Senior Policy Officer for Circular Economy at the European Environmental Bureau

“The outcome goes beyond outrageous: all meaningful restrictions were removed. The very few that remain will actually increase paper packaging, as they are only aimed at curtailing plastic. This spells disaster for forests not only in Europe but all over the world. We already cut down 3 billion trees for packaging alone. Thanks to the European Parliament, the grotesque paper packaging demand will continue to grow. It’s utterly unsustainable.”

Sergio Baffoni, Senior Paper Packaging Campaigner at the Environmental Paper Network


Notes for editors: 

  • The European Commission is revising its existing Packaging Directive as it failed to address the uncontrolled growth of packaging waste, which is a key environmental concern that poses problems for municipalities and citizens alike .