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European Parliament Adopts New Packaging and Waste Regulation to Boost Circular Economy by 2026

ECOLOGYEuropean Parliament Adopts New Packaging and Waste Regulation to Boost Circular Economy by 2026

After long and tumultuous deliberations, the European Parliament finally adopted the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) at the end of April this year. The new rules are expected to come into effect in 2026 and will revolutionize not only for consumers but primarily for the industry, which will need to place much greater emphasis on eco-design and take responsibility for the waste generated from their products. Some companies have already started making changes on their own, including eliminating plastic waste.

“In the context of packaging waste, we are facing further legislative changes, including the PPWR, which was recently adopted by the European Parliament. Currently, the European Commission is working on some amendments and translating it into all EU languages,” says Anita Sowińska, Deputy Minister of Climate and Environment, to Newseria Business agency. “This key regulation, which will also apply in Poland, includes, among other things, phasing out packaging that is not recyclable or whose recycling is not cost-effective, such as tiny hotel packaging or coffee capsules.”

The PPWR, a new regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on packaging and packaging waste, aims to reduce the amount of packaging waste and bring member states closer to implementing a circular economy (CE). It will replace the current Directive 94/62/EC and will be directly applicable in all EU member states, contributing to the harmonization and standardization of rules concerning packaging and packaging waste across the Union. The European Commission considers this necessary because currently, the multitude of regulations in this area, which apply in individual countries, in practice leads to an increase in packaging waste and complicates recycling.

After long and arduous work on this regulation in March this year, EU institutions reached an agreement on its final form, and MEPs adopted the PPWR regulation at the end of April this year. It is expected to come into effect in 2026. Its main goal is to reduce the consumption of raw materials and the negative impact of packaging and packaging waste on the environment. New, expanded requirements in eco-design and recycling will help achieve this.

According to the regulation, by 2030 in the EU, all packaging (except for lightweight packaging made of wood, cork, textiles, rubber, ceramics, porcelain, and wax) must be recyclable. The EU legislator will also introduce requirements for mandatory levels of recycled material (recyclate) in packaging products, especially those made of plastics. Some types of single-use plastic packaging will be banned. This includes single-use packaging for fresh fruits and vegetables weighing less than 1.5 kg, for food and beverages dispensed and consumed on the premises in the HoReCa sector (hotels, restaurants, and cafes), and for cosmetics and hygiene products in hotels. The ban will also cover light plastic shopping bags (below 15 microns), unless required for hygiene reasons or used to prevent food wastage.

“The idea is to move away from single-use and, where possible, replace packaging made from virgin materials with those from recycling and suitable for reprocessing,” says Ewa Janczukowicz-Cichosz, an expert in sustainable development at LPP.

“The industry I represent, the corrugated cardboard packaging producers, is actually on a good path to this, as our products have had very high recycling rates for years, reaching nearly 100 percent,” says Michał Zawistowski, Managing Director at DS Smith Poland.

Moreover, the new regulations also set goals for reducing packaging by 5 percent by 2030, 10 percent by 2035, and 15 percent by 2040. Manufacturers will be required to place greater emphasis on the eco-design of packaging and pay attention not only to what but also how they package their products, as the legislator—to reduce unnecessary packaging—has introduced a maximum empty space ratio of 50 percent for collective, transport, and e-commerce packaging, and manufacturers and importers will also need to ensure the minimization of the weight and volume of packaging. Meanwhile, final distributors of beverages and takeaway food will have to give consumers the option to use their own container and by 2030 offer customers 10 percent of products in reusable, refillable packaging.

“These planned changes will mainly rest on the shoulders of entrepreneurs, because the European Union—including Poland—is moving towards a closed-loop economy, which is based on the producer’s responsibility for their product and the waste it generates. This means that the producer will have to cover the costs of disposing of their waste, which in turn will motivate them to eco-design new products or services. So, it is a good direction, although indeed requiring a great effort,” says Anita Sowińska. “Of course, these changes will also affect us, the consumers, to some extent, because we will also have to change our behaviors and habits.”

From the consumer’s perspective, the PPWR regulation is intended to provide them with the opportunity to use reusable and refillable packaging, introduce clear and readable labels supporting recycling and eliminating greenwashing, and ultimately improve the environmental state. In relation

to business, the new regulation is intended to create new business prospects for companies and stimulate them to develop new solutions and reduce the demand for virgin raw materials, which are a significant cost item for manufacturing enterprises.

“For several years now, we have been trying to replace plastic with cardboard wherever possible, and if we talk about using plastic, we use one that is from recycling and suitable for recycling. This is a priority action for us in the context of packaging. We also have a very important project that talks about standardizing the cartons in which we transport our goods. Thanks to this standardization, we can use them again. Just last year, we reused over 2 million packages. This contributes, first, to less raw material consumption, but also to reducing costs. We also try to replace plastic with paper, even the fillers we sometimes use in our shipments, are made from recycled cardboard,” says Ewa Janczukowicz-Cichosz.

As indicated by the European Commission, the packaging sector is currently one of the largest consumers of virgin raw materials—40 percent of plastics and half of the paper used in the EU is consumed for packaging production. Moreover, most goods require packaging at several stages of the product’s life, and increasing consumption translates into a steady increase in the amount of packaging waste, not only in the EU but globally. This problem is recognized not only by regulators but also by the business itself, which in recent years has been placing increasing emphasis on eco-design and ecological packaging and their recycling, taking steps on its own to eliminate plastic.

“Only in 2023 did we manage to eliminate 40 million pieces of plastic packaging from the Polish market, which represented a tenfold increase compared to the previous year. The trend towards eliminating plastic from packaging is becoming increasingly visible,” says Michał Zawistowski. “The second issue, also important from the perspective of the PPWR regulation, is the reduction in the size of packaging and the best possible adjustment of it to its contents. That’s why we collaborate with our clients from the very beginning of the design process, to most effectively respond to their needs on the one hand, and optimize packaging in terms of its size and weight on the other. Such an approach allows for minimizing waste and the raw material used for their production.”

According to EC data, only in 2021, the EU produced 84.3 million tons of packaging waste, which corresponds to nearly 189 kg per capita—11 kg more per person than the year before. Meanwhile, between 2010 and 2021, the total amount of packaging waste produced per capita increased by 22.5 percent. Projections indicate that without appropriate actions, the amount of packaging waste from plastics alone could increase by as much as 46 percent by 2030, polluting the environment, which is already struggling with contamination by so-called microplastics.

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