EU Commission Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive revision will have major consequences for packaging chain

Mark Victory


LONDON (ICIS)—The EU Commission has published its far-ranging draft revision of the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Framework directive which will have major implications for the entirety of the packaging and waste management chain.

  • New minimum mandatory recycling targets across all packaging
  • New member state recycling targets
  • New mandatory reuse and refill targets
  • New reporting and labelling obligations
  • Seeming recognition of chemical recycling as counting towards targets

The draft legislation sets out minimum recycled content targets, minimum reuse and refill targets, mandates packaging recyclability, requires the implementation of deposit return schemes, sets out requirements for biodegradable packaging, reporting and labelling requirements, and appears to allow the use of chemical recycling in recycling targets as long as its end output is not used for fuel or backfilling applications.

An undated draft of the legislation leaked in October. The published version sets different recycling targets – with some revised up and some down –  but is far more wide ranging than the leak, and now includes things such as reuse and refill targets, which it had been widely speculated to include throughout November.  Earlier drafts drew fierce criticism from packaging associations.

Minimum recycling targets for the packaging chain

Under the draft regulation, from 1 January 2030, all plastic packaging must include a minimum percentage of recycled content – by weight – of:

  • 30% for contact sensitive packaging made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) as the major component
  • 10% for contact sensitive packaging made from plastic materials other than PET, except single use plastic beverage bottles
  • 30% for single use plastic beverage bottle
  • 35% for all other packaging

By 2040, this will increase to:-

  • 50% for contact sensitive plastic packaging, except single use plastic beverage bottles
  • 65% for single use plastic beverage bottles, and all other packaging

Medical packaging will be exempt from the requirements as long as necessary to preserve the quality of the medical product.

By 2030 all packaging must be recyclable, to qualify as recyclable must be

  • Designed for recycling
  • Separately collected
  • Sorted in to defined waste streams without affecting the recyclability of other waste streams
  • Possible to recycled so that the resulting secondary raw materials are of sufficient quality to substitute the primary raw materials

Packaging components will also need to be compatible with state of the art collection, sorting and recycling processes, and not hinder the recyclability of the main body of the unit of packaging. This could prove a challenge for some biodegradable and bio-based packaging routes, which have historically caused contamination when entering recycling chains.

By 2035 all packaging must also be able to be recycled at scale. To be considered recycled at scale packaging must be “collected, sorted and recycled through installed state-of-the-art infrastructure and processes, covering at least 75% of the Union population, including packaging waste exported from the Union that meets the requirements of Article 47(5).”

Whether packaging is recycled at scale will be assessed by the EU Commission. The Commission will adopt acts to establish the methodology for the calculation and verification of the percentage of recycled content recovered from post-consumer plastic waste, per unit of plastic packaging, and the format for the technical documentation by the end of 2026. Where there is a lack of data on recycling rates for packaging waste per packaging type, assumptions will be made based on average loss rates.

The draft legislation would also give authority to the Commission to revise down targets or change timings of their introduction for packaging types where there is a lack of suitable recycling technologies due to not being authorised under EU rules, or where they are not sufficiently installed in practice. The draft would also give the Commission authority to revise targets due to “excessive prices of specific recycled plastics” or where there may be an adverse effect on human or animal health, the environment, or security of food supply.

Reuse and refill

The draft legislation also introduces minimum packaging reuse or refill targets these include that by 2030

  • 10% of non-alcoholic beverages
  • 90% of large household appliances are made available in reusable transport packaging within a system for re-use
  • 20% of hot and cold take-away beverage container
  • 10% from the HORECA sector (HORECA refers to the food service industry involved in selling food or beverages such as restaurants and cafes) where the product is for immediate consumption
  • 5% of wine bottles, excepting sparkling wine
  • 10% of non-food e-commerce packaging
  • 30% of transport packaging in the form of
    • Pallets
    • Plastic crates
    • Foldable plastic boxes
    • Pails and drums
  • 10% of transport packaging used for stabilization and protection of products on pallets

By 2040 these will increase to

  • 25% of non-alcoholic beverages
  • 80% of hot and cold take-away beverage containers
  • 25% from the HORECA sector
  • 15% of wine bottles excluding sparkling wine
  • 50% of non-food e-commerce packaging
  • 90% of the above mentioned transport packaging
  • 30% of transport packaging used for stabilization and protection of products on pallets

The burden to ensure that re-use systems for packaging are in place will fall on the packaging value chain rather than regulators.

Reporting and labelling

There are also wide-ranging new reporting and labelling obligations on packaging across the EU, including information on material composition, reusability, and will standardise labelling across the EU.

Part of these obligations will require both domestic and overseas packaging producers to register with each individual member state’s extended producer responsibility schemes before being allowed to place packaging into that member state’s market. There will not be a requirement to state recycled content on packaging, but where it stated the labelling will be standardised.

The draft also prohibits the “display [of] labels, marks, symbols or inscriptions that are likely to mislead or confuse consumers or other end users with respect to the sustainability requirements for packaging, other packaging characteristics or packaging waste management options, for which harmonised labelling has been laid down in this Regulation”.

By 1 January 2028, packaging will need to contain visible and readable labelling to ”enable the separate collection of each material specific fraction of packaging waste that is intended to be discarded in separate receptacles”.

Member state requirements

Member states will be required to reduce per capita packaging waste by 5% by 2030, 10% by 2035, and 15% by 2040 compared with 2018 reported levels.

Member states will also have to set-up deposit return schemes by 2029 for

  • Single use plastic beverage bottles up to 3 litres
  • Metal beverage containers up to 3 litres

But this will not apply to wine, spirits or milk and milk products. Member states will not have to implement deposit return schemes if they can show they have collected 90% – by weight – of these packaging types in both 2026 and 2027. This exemption will be revoked if the member state’s collection subsequently falls below 90% for three consecutive years.

Member states will be required to hit recycling targets – by weight –  by the end of 2025 of:

  • A minimum of 65% of all packaging waste generated
  • 50% of plastic
  • 25% of wood
  • 70% of ferrous metals
  • 50% of aluminium
  • 70% of glass
  • 75% of paper and cardboard

By 2030 this will increase to:

  • 70% of all packaging waste generated
  • 55% of plastic
  • 30% of wood
  • 80% of ferrous metals
  • 60% of aluminium
  • 75% of glass
  • 85% of paper and cardboard

Individual member states can postpone the deadlines – with the exception of the overall target – by up to 5 years as long as

  • It is limited to a maximum of 15 percentage points from a single target or split between two targets
  • The recycling rate for a single target is not below 30%
  • It informs the Commission 24 months in advance of the target being due of its intention to postpone

A member state can also adjust target levels for a given year “by taking into account the average share, in the preceding three years, of reusable sales packaging placed on the market for the first time and re-used as part of a system for re-use of packaging…. No more than five percentage points of the average share of reusable sales packaging shall be taken into account for the calculation of the respective adjusted target level.”

Chemical recycling

The draft bill would also appear to clarify and support the use of chemical recycling as counting towards the targets as long as its end use is not for fuel or backfill. The bill states that:-

“The amount of packaging waste materials that have ceased to be waste as a result of a preparatory operation before being reprocessed may be counted as recycled provided that such materials are destined for subsequent reprocessing into products, materials or substances to be used for the original or other purposes. However, end-of-waste materials to be used as fuels or other means to generate energy, or to be incinerated, backfilled or landfilled, shall not be counted as recycled.”

This appears to be a clarification of the definition of recycling set out in Directive 2008/98/EC which forms the basis of the majority of EU recycling legislation definitions, in which recycling is “any recovery operation by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes. It includes the reprocessing of organic material but does not include energy recovery and the reprocessing into materials that are to be used as fuels or for backfilling operations”, which had left the legal status of chemical recycling uncertain, particularly for pyrolysis – the dominant form of chemical recycling in Europe – where mixed plastic waste is commonly converted to pyrolysis oil – a naphtha substitute – before being reprocessed into recycled plastics.

“The legislation expands the targets for the use of recycle materials across a wider range of sectors, which should generate more demand across the value chain. It does however also increase the reporting obligations on the supply chain which can be onerous, even if necessary. Most significantly it does suggest chemical recycling for plastics to plastics will be recognised as contributing to recycling targets,” Helen McGeough, Senior Analyst for Plastic Recycling at ICIS said.

Focus article by Mark Victory

In November 2021, ICIS launched a new mixed plastic waste pricing service covering European prices for mixed-polyolefins waste bales, reject refuse-derived fuel (RDF) bales and reject materials recovery facility (MRF) bales. Along with this, the new service covers emerging trends in the chemical and mechanical recycling markets, as well as the burn-for-energy sector. To subscribe to the new pricing service, or for further information, please contact


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