Negotiations saw unbridled industry lobbying against meaningful inclusions in the Regulation – their victory is forests’ loss.
Even Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) appeared taken aback by the industry pressure campaign that has, so far, succeeded in stripping the proposed Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) of most of its meaningful provisions. It now falls to the Council to defend the proposal’s original environmental ambition, and for EU citizens to raise serious questions about the packaging industry’s shameless tactics.
During the final run-up to the Parliament’s plenary vote, 21 November 2023, forests, plastic and zero-waste campaigners travelled to Strasbourg to persuade lawmakers to uphold key re-use targets and bans on unnecessary throwaway packaging.
After listening to the plenary debate, Mateus Carvalho, campaigner with the Environmental Paper Network, reported that “The debate was hugely biased, and we could see the damage on public discourse made by the packaging industry. Italian MEPs, in particular, held onto the erroneous belief that recycling is enough to tackle the mounting packaging waste, though a few MEPs from Movement 5 Stars denounced the brutal, relentless lobbying made by Italian packaging manufacturers.”
MEPs complained of the intensity of industry’s onslaught: Delara Burkhardt, one of the most environmentally ambitious legislators working on the file, said she’d never experienced anything like it, while Pascal Canfin, chair of the ENVI committee, questioned the ethics of lobbying on the basis of non-publicly-available data. Some MEPs stated that lobbyists entered offices in the evening, without permission, while others claimed that they had been tracked in corridors and into bars – even into the bathroom – in violation of lobbying rules adopted after the Qatargate scandal.
After months of harassment, the packaging industry got much of what it wanted.
On 22 November, Parliament voted:
- To set only a five per cent packaging waste reduction by 2030, 10 per cent by 2035 and 15 per cent by 2040;
- To keep cardboard exemptions on re-use targets in the transportation sector;
- To only restrict miniature hotel packaging (shampoo bottles) and collation films, which represent a small part of the problem;
- An exemption from re-use targets if Member States achieve at least an 85 per cent collection rate of specific material;
- To exclude wine, spirits and milk from re-use targets.
- All amendments attempting to make deposit-return schemes voluntary were rejected;
- Use of the chemicals PFAS and BPA in food packaging will be banned (18 months after the Regulation enters into force);
- Member States need to meet a 90 per cent separate collection target.
The Council is more ambitious, but can it resist industry pressure?
The Council is currently discussing its internal position. The Italian and Finnish governments are gathering support to further limit Articles (22 and 26) creating re-use targets and banning specific packaging formats. The Dutch, Danish, Estonian and French governments are targeting greater ambition, but are starting to feel isolated.
As Carvalho notes, “It is important to contact national ministries and national representations in the EU to make sure this ambition is not lost and to remind them of what is at stake.”
Indeed, stakes are high. Yearly, three billion trees globally are pulped for packaging – in a world confronting a climate crisis (FW 282). To feed the industry’s rapacious demand, rapid-growth, water-intensive, highly flammable eucalyptus ‘gum trees’ are planted in many countries (FW 288), risking deadly wildfires each summer for packaging that is destined to be thrown away.
Campaigners hope that Environment Ministers will defend the public interest when they meet on 18 December to try to finalise the Council’s PPWR position. After this, the aggressive tactics deployed by private interests must be challenged. The private sector must not be allowed to shift the negative environmental and health consequences of their activities onto citizens and the public purse.