Paper industry lobbyists expected to continue to push false narratives to try to remove the remaining positive elements of the Paper Packaging and Waste Regulation from the final version.
The tally was 41 in favour, 39 against, 3 abstentions: One vote from a single Member of the European Parliament (MEP) is the only thing that protected the ban on unnecessary throwaway packaging in the Committee on the Environment (ENVI) vote on the proposed Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), 24 October 2023. Next month’s plenary vote must ardently defend what remains of the proposal’s initial ambition.
By contrast with previous attempts to ban only plastic – which would entail a shift from plastic to paper-based packaging, not a decrease in packaging – the compromise amendments maintain the ban on all single-use packaging for eat-in restaurants.
From now until the Parliament’s plenary vote in late November, the paper and single use packaging lobbies are likely to do everything in their power to get rid of this ban. Globally, three billion trees are already pulped each year for packaging, yet the battle to increase overharvesting is unrelenting.
Ambition already weakened
The text voted by ENVI is considerably less ambitious than the Commission’s original proposal (which was weakened even before publication, FW 282). The compromise amendments remove the ban on single-use paper packaging for fruits and vegetables, and introduce multiple derogations that sap the law’s potential to rein in runaway packaging.
Amongst the derogations is the possibility for the Commission to “adopt delegated acts to depart from the waste hierarchy for specific waste streams if justified by an independent and peer reviewed Life Cycle Assessment”. Such Assessments can be misleading and easily abused to unjustly undermine the waste hierarchy.
Profiting at forests’ expense
The single-use packaging industry and its army of lobbyists see the shift from plastic to paper as a significant business opportunity. Paper-based food packaging companies have increased profits at the expense of over-harvested forests in Finland and Sweden; dangerous expansion of eucalyptus plantations in Portugal (FW 288); and paper imports from South America and Southeast Asia, where tropical deforestation and attendant human rights violations are serious concerns.
The corrugated cardboard industry, which has grown exponentially thanks to e-commerce and demand for throwaway cardboard crates, successfully lobbied for a shift from plastic to paper for transport packaging. There is now no reuse target for cardboard, although reusable boxes are already widely used.
Notably, the compromise amendment on reusable packaging – a watered-down version of the Commission proposal – also survived a knife-edge vote (42 in favour, 38 against). This means that instead of endorsing material substitution, the EU should facilitate scaling-up re-use systems.
Misleading ‘sustainability’ claims
Paper packaging industries typically portray paper as a ‘green’ or ‘renewable’ alternative to plastic; this is untrue. In the food-packaging industry, 90 per cent of paper pulp is from virgin fibre, intensifying European pulp production and increasing imports from tropical forests.
With climate and biodiversity in crisis, we cannot pulp forests that house nature and cool the planet. They are the homes and livelihoods of their local and Indigenous communities; and the lifeblood of high added-value wood products, such as wood for construction.
The PPWR’s potential has already been reduced, weakening it further would constitute a betrayal of broader public interests and of future generations.