Industry influence is readily visible in the ever-worsening drafts of the EU’s proposed Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). When the European Parliament’s ENVI committee meet to adopt their report, 23-24 October 2023, it is hoped they can tune out industry noise in order to defend the broader interests – and lives – of EU citizens, and stop our forests being pulped for packaging.
Current PPWR industry-inspired amendments target plastic almost exclusively, turning a blind eye to the corresponding uptick in paper-based packaging that occurs when plastic packaging decreases, and sidestepping the pulp and paper industry’s impacts on biodiversity, water pollution, air quality, forest fires and even loss of life.
Parliamentary insiders tell us that the packaging industry is trumpeting the dangerous notion that paper is a more environmental alternative to plastic – even though three billion trees per year globally are ground up for packaging. Anti-plastic and paper campaigners agree - we need to reduce packaging altogether, not shift from one material to another.
Claims about recyclability are also misleading, since paper-based packaging, especially for food, is mechanically laced with plastic and therefore only very rarely recycled. And paper packaging uses less recycled content than one might hope: card for packaging must contain about 50 per cent longer fibres from virgin wood to be resilient (FW 282).
When MEPs debate easing requirements surrounding paper, card and wood pallets, they should also call to mind the direct link to the deadly wildfires that besiege Europe, and the rest of the world, each summer.
Already aggravated by climate change, the risk of forest fires is intensified by the type of trees planted for packaging: in southern Europe, natural forests are replaced with rapid-growth, water-intensive, highly flammable ‘gum trees’, eucalyptus. As a result, EU residents in the South of the continent find themselves living next to plantations that act as kindling if a fire begins. Anthropologist and activist Fernando Amaral testifies in Climate Home News about the 2017 fires that tore through about five per cent of Portugal’s territory, costing 120 people their lives, and him his home. That desperate scenario is now familiar across Mediterranean Member States.
Dedicated MEPs – Delara Burkhardt, Grace O’Sullivan, Pascal Canfin – understand the need to rein in runaway increases in paper-based packaging in addition to plastic but they need the help of other MEPs to:
- Resist attempts to exclude cardboard from re-use targets for transport packaging, and reinstate re-use targets for takeaway packaging;
- Maintain the ban on single-use packaging for dine-in restaurants applicable to all materials, not just plastic (see France’s experience, FW 285);
- Maintain ambitious targets for waste prevention for all materials, not just plastic.
Achieving a truly circular economy will require real effort across numerous portfolios and legislative files. But previous generations of Europeans did not live in single-use, Waste Economies, showing us that we do not have to tolerate ever-multiplying packaging and packaging waste. Given the state of our climate and forests, we cannot afford to let this file get away from us.