Packaging lobbyists have won: packaging regulation will increase waste, according to Forest NGOs

5 March 2024

Packaging lobbyists have won: packaging regulation will increase waste, according to Forest NGOs

The final EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation was agreed in trilogue despite being stripped of its most pressing provisions.

Yesterday the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union released the final text of the long-awaited compromise on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation. Negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission ended in a rock-bottom compromise that removed measures to reduce paper-based packaging waste. After 15 months of negotiations and an unprecedented level of industry lobbying, NGOs focused on paper pulp production and forest conservation are dismayed with the final result, warning that the regulation may actually result in an increase of paper-based packaging

“It’s utter nonsense. A regulation whose aim is to reduce waste will actually increase it!” stated Sergio Baffoni, Campaigner at the Environmental Paper Network, “We’ve warned over and over again of the danger that the regulation will perpetuate Europe’s packaging-and-waste crisis. Shifting materials from plastic to paper doesn’t solve the problem and moving to composite packaging, which is incredibly difficult and expensive to recycle, makes it even worse.”

“We need to shift from single-use to reusable packaging, but this regulation simply substitutes plastic for paper-based packaging, which itself often contains a lot of plastic. This will have drastic impacts, such as increasing pulp imports from tropical forests. This regulation literally turns trees into throw-away cups and delivery boxes,” said Hannah Mowat, Campaigns Coordinator at Fern, the forest and rights NGO.

The Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation aims to curtail the increasing amounts of packaging waste, but experts say a number of derogations and loopholes will actually result in substitution from plastic to paper, which often contains a lot of plastic. Most tellingly, measures aimed at reducing amounts of single-use paper were sacrificed in Annex V, which lists the packaging formats to be restricted - meaning bans are limited to single-use plastics. The Environmental Paper Network is also highly critical of the exemption on cardboard put forward in the reuse targets of the transportation sector, even though 70% of single-use packaging is corrugated cardboard and large-scale reuse systems are already in place and are working well.

McDonald’s bill?

The last minute drop of paper packaging restrictions from dine-in food packaging in Annex V during yesterday’s trilogue meeting is widely seen as a victory for the fast food giant and its partners. With a formal internal investigation by the European Parliament on undue influence by packaging lobbyists, Sergio Baffoni spares no words: “The throwaway packaging industry has hijacked the political process. The fast food and the paper packaging industry managed to distort and empty a regulation born to reduce single-use packaging. The regulation now promotes single-use paper packaging, often lined with plastic, at the cost of global forests and the climate. Industry lobbyists are celebrating, but consumers will continue to be hounded by increasing amounts of waste in their own homes - there may be less plastic, but there’ll be far more paper - and far fewer forests."

What’s more, the exemption on paper packaging and cardboard also applies to group packaging, food wrappers, packaging for vegetables and fruits, individual portions (e.g. condiments, sauces, sugar) and toiletry products in the hospitality sector. In practice, the bananas or oranges we saw in plastic containers will now come in unnecessary throwaway paper containers.

What next?

The Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation now returns to Parliament and Council for final approval. National EU Member-States still have the opportunity to show they are more ambitious, leading in bans and more ambitious reuse targets. France, for example, already has a restriction on single-use food packaging when dining in. Campaigners are calling for national governments to step up where the European institutions have fallen short. 

European consumers will have to wait for future regulations to see forests protected from over-harvesting and an overall decrease in packaging levels. In the next term of the European Parliament and the Commission, policy makers must not yield to industry lobby pressure and instead curtail all single-use products.

Notes to the Editor:

The total packaging waste generation in the EU increased from 66 million tonnes in 2009 to 84.3 million tonnes in 2021 (27.7% growth) and is forecasted to increase to 92 million tonnes by 2030, and 107 million tonnes by 2040. (Source: Eurostat and EC’s Impact Assessment)

Annual packaging waste generation was estimated at about 190 kg per inhabitant in the EU annually. This waste has a significant environmental impact, contributing to 40% of plastic and 50% of paper use, along with annual carbon emissions equal to that of Hungary. (Source: Eurostat)

Packaging is one of the main users of virgin materials (40% of plastics and 50% of paper used in the EU is destined for packaging) and accounts for 36% of municipal solid waste.

Every year, three billion trees are cut down for paper packaging and cardboard alone.

This is a joint press release by the Environmental Paper Network and Fern.

Categories: Press Releases, Paper packaging

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