Revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive

Currently the revision of the European Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive 94/62/EC (PPWD) is under discussion. The publication of the first draft was originally scheduled for summer 2022, but a certain delay seems to be likely.

Recycling topics under discussion

Some key topics of the revision of the PPWD are the definition of the term recyclability, a consistent design for recycling and requirements for recycled material content.

One of the currently discussed definitions concerning recyclability is as follows: Recyclable packaging is that which can be effectively and efficiently separated from the waste stream, collected, sorted and aggregated into defined streams for recycling processes, and recycled at scale through relevant industrial processes so that it is turned into a secondary raw material of sufficient quality such that end markets exist in which it is valued as a substitute for virgin material.

Investments in efficient national producer responsibility schemes needed

Thus, a precondition for efficient packaging recycling are well working collection systems and an innovative sorting and recycling infrastructure in all EU Member States. Only under these conditions the ambitious recycling targets for 2025 and 2030 which are laid down in the current PPWD can be reached.

  Current targets (%) By 2025 (%) By 2030 (%)
All packaging 55 65 70
Plastic 25 50 55
Wood 15 25 30
Ferrous metals 50 (incl. Al) 70 80
Aluminium - 50 60
Glass 60 70 75
Paper and cardboard 60 75 85

Therefore, in many EU Member States substantial investments are needed to live up to these requirements and to establish efficient producer responsibility schemes for all packaging in order to prevent the loss of valuable resources due to landfilling or incineration.

With regard to packaging recyclability, amongst others the following aspects are under discussion during the PPWD revision process

  • design for recycling assessment procedures (self- and third party assessment),
  • negative lists of materials, components or features hampering recycling and
  • requirements for a certain recycled material content in packaging

Intention to introduce recycled material content quotas for plastic packaging

Concerning requirements for a certain recycled material content, the legislator is focusing on post-consumer instead of pre-consumer scrap because pre-consumer scrap is rather considered as an indication for inefficiencies in the production process. However, the current problem is that high-quality post-consumer scrap is in short supply, especially that one which is fit for use for food contact materials. One of the reasons for this bottleneck is that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has not yet sufficiently authorized recycling processes for largely used polyolefins such as PE or PP which would allow the packaging industry to use these recycled materials for food contact applications.

Currently, concrete targets for plastic recycled content in packaging are under discussion in the PPWD revision process. In this context, medium/ambitious targets for contact-sensitive (25%/35% by 2030) and non-contact sensitive (35%/45% by 2030) product groups are proposed. In general, with regard to the use of post-consumer recycled materials, it has to be underlined that today there is a lack of availability of high-quality recycled plastic materials which can be used for contact-sensitive product groups such as food contact materials or cosmetics. In addition, the current legal and recycling framework for food and cosmetics products/packaging is not comparable to the pharmaceutical sector so that the latter would have to be exempted from the targets for contact-sensitive products in order to maintain the safety of patients.

Thus, the term contact-sensitive would need a more detailed definition and the proposed targets seem to be rather ambitious, especially if only post-consumer materials shall be considered. In addition, a consistent tracking and tracing system for post-consumer recycled materials would have to be in place in order to ensure sourcing transparency.

Chemical recycling indispensable to achieve recycled material content

The plastic recycling industry heavily doubts that these targets for plastic recycled content can be reached through mechanical recycling only. Hence, heavy investments in chemical recycling solutions would be necessary to achieve the targets. Especially for composite plastic packaging, only chemical recycling will offer the opportunity to achieve the quantities and qualities of recycled plastics which are required for contact-sensitive product groups. However, it is questionable whether chemical recycling can be expanded in EU Member States to a degree that the 2030 targets can be reached.