New regulations: are they on your radar?

Steve Davis

Steve Davis, global director of product management at Industrial Physics, discusses the development in EU packaging and waste regulations as well as the possible implications for packaging professionals.

ENVIRONMENTAL obligations within the packaging industry are not a new concept. However, the EU’s mission to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 within the sector has resulted in several developments. Professionals must analyse these changes and factor them into operations to avoid getting left behind.

What are the regulations?

Towards the end of 2022, the EU issued a proposal to replace the current Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) with a regulation (PPWR). Currently, the PPWD’s obligations are at the discretion of national authorities, therefore there are discrepancies in implementation. Under the proposed regulation, which sets out packaging reduction targets reaching 5% by 2030, 10% by 2035 and 15% by 2040 through re-use and recycling, all EU member states would be held accountable. This means that for some member states, transformation is on the horizon to ensure that packaging adheres to the proposed regulation in time. However, to maintain the required safety and quality, manufacturers must ensure that new packaging types are tested, which may well require collaboration with a testing partner.

The PPWR will catalyse change in several key areas including Extended Producer Responsibility (ERP), packaging design, and environmental labelling. For example, under the new regulation, business operators making use of reusable packaging would be obliged to participate in at least one system for re-use that meets specific requirements pre-determined by the regulation. It would also require deposit and return schemes to be set up by 1st January 2029 for single use plastic beverage bottles and single use metal containers each with a capacity of up to three litres.

What does this mean for packaging professionals?

The implications of the PPWR will vary drastically depending on the industry that the packaging is developed for, and the type of materials used.

Our latest research of international packaging professionals revealed that over half (57%) have already reduced or replaced plastic in the past five years. However, once the PPWR comes into effect, those working with plastics will also be made to meet mandatory targets for the level of recyclable content that can be recovered from post-consumer packaging waste. As of 1st January 2030, the level of recycled content required from PET food packaging will be 30%, rising to 50% from 1st January 2040. This is likely to increase the level of recycled plastics used for containers such as bottles, however, plastic packaging manufacturers are already finding that recycled PET (rPET) presents an interesting challenge for testing. rPET contains recycled and virgin materials, which reduces the homogeneity in the polymer chain length and the individual molecules. It can therefore perform differently in a standard test due to contamination, level of processing, or the ratio of virgin to recycled material, to name just a few. However, manufacturers must be sure of the appropriate level of variance to ensure the safety and quality of the packaging created.

Individual and grouped packaging design will also be under scrutiny in adherence with the proposed regulation. The PPWR intends to minimise the volume of empty space currently present in packaging, which will impact processes such as filling, testing and transport.

How should professionals prepare?

Packaging professionals need to understand how the PPWR will impact their operations and start preparing now, developing dedicated groups within the company to regularly catch up on developments and make decisions with the maximum experience available. This may also entail securing the support of external testing partners who can fill any knowledge gaps and help with the planning process when changes will be made to packaging.

Wider industry collaboration will also be crucial; attending events and joining groups to share common challenges and insights will help to ensure that companies do not get left behind.