Ministers demand more flexibility with EU packaging law

Environment ministers from the European Union’s 27 member states, led by Italy and Belgium, want more flexibility in implementing the bloc’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), tabled by the European Commission in November.

The regulation aims to boost waste prevention and recycling by introducing new targets on reuse and mandatory deposit return schemes for used packaging.

However, during a debate held in the Environment Council last week, ministers expressed concern the proposed law will undermine existing national recycling systems.

Italy is leading the charge against the proposal, which has one of the highest recycling rates in Europe when it comes to packaging, according to Eurostat.

“Prescribing methods and solutions that are one-size-fits-all for all member states without any kind of differentiation based on the conditions and circumstances when it comes to the sorting of waste and the recycling targets – we just don’t think it’s the best solution,” said Italian Environment Minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin.

According to him, it is essential to have ambitious shared targets while leaving EU countries sufficient “room for manoeuvre in achieving them”.

His views are widely shared among other ministers who participated in the Brussels meeting. 

“What this regulation does is just interfere with national measures which are already up and running, and therefore remove legal certainty,” said Austrian environment minister Leonore Gewessler, who expressed worries for existing deposit return systems in place in EU member states.

To achieve greater harmonisation across EU countries, the European Commission decided on a regulation rather than a directive. While EU directives set objectives that must be transposed into national law, regulations directly apply to national legislation.

But ministers from several EU countries disagreed with this choice and preferred a directive. 

“The choice of the legal instrument – a regulation – is not appropriate” and “will lead to the creation of an inefficient system,” said Belgian environment minister Zakia Khattabi. 

“It won’t allow us or won’t help us to achieve our objectives because it will be far from taking into account the cultural and national specificities and investments and will also curb those states that are frontrunners in this area,” she added. 

On the other hand, a directive will provide member states with ambitious targets and the necessary “margin for manœuvre” to achieve them, Khattabi said. 

The European Commission defended its proposal, saying the previous directive has failed to reduce waste. 

“We are definitely not going for a directive” because “it just didn’t work” in the past, said EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, who spoke during the debate among ministers.

“Having a regulation as a legal instrument for setting sustainability requirements at product level has already proved to be a success story in many policy areas,” he argued. 

Regulation will also have “huge economic benefits for companies”, and industries support this choice, the Commissioner said. 

“The industry, including SMEs and multinational companies, strongly complains that the EU market for packaging and waste management is fragmented, and they call for regulation that can help achieve efficiency gains in a genuinely internal market.”

EU countries split over ambition

Under the new regulation, EU member states must reduce packaging waste by 5% by 2030. By the end of 2025, 65% of all packaging waste should be recycled, including 50% of plastic, 50% of aluminium, 70% of glass, and 75% of paper and board.

While some countries demand more flexible deadlines, others like the Netherlands, want higher recycling, reuse, and refilling targets.

“We should be even more ambitious,” said Dutch minister Vivianne Heijnen. “Given the exponential growth of the amount of packaging on the market, we cannot afford to wait until 2040 to achieve reduction,” she said.

Luxembourg echoed the position, but many other ministers disagreed.  

“A more gradual approach must be followed,” suggested Petros Varelidis, secretary general at the Greek environment ministry. “Some of these measures can be pursued but gradually and with low percentages so that we can see that they work, and if they work, then we can build on them,” he said.

Impact of tourism

Mediterranean countries, such as Greece and Malta, denounced the methodology used to calculate waste generation, saying it does not consider the effect of tourism.

“Tourism fluctuates a lot from one year to another, directly affecting the packaging waste generated per capita. So, there must be a correction factor in how we calculate,” Varelidis said. 

His statement was echoed by Maltese minister Miriam Dalli, who insisted that member states with “a high influx of tourists and consequently an increased waste generation in absolute terms” are being penalised by the proposed methodology. 


About the author

Related Post

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *