Proposed EU Regulation on packaging and packaging waste

28 April, 2023

On 30 November 2022, the European Commission published a new proposal for a Regulation on packaging and packaging waste. The proposal has been developed to reduce negative environmental impacts of packaging and packaging waste and improve the functioning of the internal market. It will also repeal the existing packaging waste Directive 94/62/EC. It’s important for food and drink companies to be aware of the proposal as it goes through the regulatory process in order to keep ahead of impacts on packaging, which could be significant.


Four interlinked problems have been identified by the European Commission in regard to packaging and packaging waste:

  1. Increasing packaging waste generation, year on year, across member states
  2. Barriers to packaging circularity, including packaging features that make recycling difficult
  3. Confusion/lack of harmonisation in recycling labelling across member states and market fragmentation
  4. Frequent downcycling (where the recycled material is of lower quality and functionality than the original material) including low levels of recycled content in packaging

Proposed EU Regulation on packaging and packaging waste

To help mitigate this, the Commission has published an ambitious proposal which seeks to reinforce the existing framework on packaging waste whilst adding many more details and targets based around packaging circularity. This includes deposit-return schemes for plastic and metal beverage containers.

The proposal introduces a new concept that all food and beverage packaging – including materials intended for re-use – must be recyclable. It also identifies several sub criteria on recyclability, including ‘recycling at scale’ (due to be enforced in 2035) and ‘design for recycling’ (due to be enforced in 2030) which will be written and published in due course.

Harmonised recycling logo system

One of the big changes proposed is a harmonised recycling logo system, for both product labels and recycling bins, across all member states. This will allow a much more joined up system, as the current framework, enabled by the EC Directive, allowed member states to set up their own systems. This has led to different logos, bins and recycling infrastructure across borders, creating a nightmare for companies wanting to do the right thing and promote recycling on their multi-lingual labels.

Certain packaging formats, deemed to be unnecessary, are proposed to be banned altogether. The list currently includes single use condiment sachets, most single use packaging for fresh fruit and vegetables, and shrink wrap for multipacks of canned goods.

Separate rules proposed on reusable packaging suggest (amongst other provisions) this packaging must be designed and marketed specifically for reuse, must be capable of being reconditioned, and at the end of its life must be recyclable. The proposal also states reusable packaging shall be clearly identified and distinguished from single-use packaging when sold.

For the first time items such as tea bags and coffee pods are also classed as packaging, and the proposal suggests these, together with lightweight plastic bags found in the fruit and vegetable section of supermarkets, must be fully compostable.

When will the new legislation enter into force?

The date is not fixed and may change but we currently expect this to happen in 2025, after the European elections and once the new European Parliament is in place.

There are many transitional provisions detailed in the proposal text from one year after publication (repeal of the existing Directive 94/62/EC) to 2040 (improved re-use targets for take away beverage cups).

Some of the proposed changes will require significant infrastructure investment across member states, which may in turn affect application timelines for parts of the final Regulation.

Stakeholder consultation

The European Commission’s stakeholder consultation on the proposal closed on the 24 April 2023. The proposal is now working its way through the normal legislative procedure involving scrutiny by the European Parliament and Council of Europe. Feedback received from different stakeholders and progress can be tracked and viewed here.

How food and beverage companies can prepare for the EU Regulation on packaging and packaging waste

Even though the main application date is a couple of years away, it’s worth taking the time now to understand the potential impact of the proposed Regulation on product portfolios. This will enable companies to prepare feedback through official channels or industry associations to help shape the legislation as the draft directive moves to publication.

Leatherhead Food Research supports companies in identifying, the potential impacts of proposed legislation on a global scale, as well as offering compliance advice on legislation currently in force.

Our scientific and regulatory affairs team are able to support with both analysis of the EU proposal on packaging and packaging waste and a Europe wide compliance overview of the different recycling logo systems in place today.

For help assessing these impacts, do get in touch at [email protected]. We can also provide regulatory analysis to support any feedback given to official channels or industry associations.

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