In the quest for a greener future, packaging plays a pivotal role in protecting and preserving the products we use and love. The latest “Unboxing Sustainability” podcast episode delves into the evolving landscape of packaging in Europe, exploring key topics such as recyclability, reusability, sustainable sourcing, and the importance of regulations.
In this episode, we discuss with Anna Papagrigoraki, Sustainability Director from CEPI, the coming European Comssions Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). What does it mean? Why is it set? What will the packaging look like in the future in Europe? And what is actually the role of packaging itself?
Why Pack? The Vital Role of Packaging to Protect and Preserve Products
Packaging serves as the guardian of our cherished goods, shielding them from damage, spoilage, and contamination. It ensures products reach consumers in optimal condition, extending their shelf life and reducing waste, e.g., food waste. Striking the right balance between sustainability goals and food safety is essential to avoid exacerbating the issue of food waste. While the drive for sustainability is crucial, banning packaging without considering its impact on food waste can have unintended consequences.
Europe is at the forefront of sustainable packaging innovation, envisioning a future where all packaging materials are reusable or recyclable by 2030. This ambitious goal by the EU sets the stage for a paradigm shift, driving industries to explore alternative materials, design strategies, and waste management systems.
The vision of a circular economy lies at the heart of this transformation.
Reusable or Recyclable by 2030: A Mandate for All Packaging Materials
To realize a sustainable packaging future and harmonization, Europe has set a clear regulation: by 2030, all packaging must be reusable or recyclable. This mandate touches upon every packaging material: metals, glass, plastics to paper, and carton board. The objective of the PPWR is to minimize packaging waste, promote circularity, conserve resources, and reduce the environmental impact of packaging throughout its lifecycle.
Navigating the world of packaging regulations can be complex. Differentiating between a regulation and a directive is crucial. Regulations, e.g., PPWR, are binding and enforceable across all EU member states, while directives provide guidelines for countries to implement at their discretion.
Harmonization, the process of aligning regulations and standards, ensures consistency and efficiency in packaging practices throughout the member states.
Harmonization for a Sustainable Future: Preventing Packaging Waste
Harmonization plays a pivotal role in preventing packaging waste. By establishing common guidelines and standards, Europe can address packaging-related challenges in a unified manner.
Consistency in regulations, waste management infrastructure, and recycling processes facilitate cross-border trade and enhance sustainability efforts throughout the continent.
The target figures for the prevention of unnecessary packaging are the following: 5% from the year 2018 figures by 2030, 10% in 2035, and 15% in 2040.
Recyclability and Reusability: Scaling Up Recycling Efforts and Revolutionizing Packaging Systems
Recyclability lies at the core of sustainable packaging. Scaling up recycling efforts is paramount to reducing waste and conserving resources. Europe aims to achieve “recyclability at scale,” ensuring that packaging materials can be effectively and efficiently recycled.
By setting ambitious targets for 2030, such as a minimum of 85% for papers and carton boards and 55% for plastics, Europe seeks to drive innovation and increase in recycling rates. Currently, the recycling rate for fibre-based materials is 81.6%, and for plastics is 9 percent.
How about the change from single-use packaging to reusable alternatives? What are the environmental and economic impacts of the reusable options? And how many times the packaging should actually be reused? By embracing reusable packaging, Europe’s plan is to reduce its environmental impact. But for example, McKinsey’s report emposes that the strict reusable packaging targets by 2030 would actually impact negatively the EU’s environmental footprint as well as the competitiveness and resilience of the European economy. A case study for Belgium’s takeaway food service sector shows the change from single-use packaging to reusable alternatives in this sector would mean extra 140-160% CO2 emissions because of the transport and energy use as well as most of the reusable packaging is made of fossil-based material. The environmental impact is also driven by e.g., cleaning which also interns additional water usage and energy consumption and contamination using the detergents. The costs for the change from single-use to reusable alternatives would mean 80-130% extra, because of e.g. transportation and cleaning costs. This would also mean extra costs for consumers as they’d need to buy reusable packaging.
Achieving reusability and refillability requires a systematic change in consumer behavior. Consumers would need to learn to return the packaging or refill the packaging at the point of sale. Establishing discipline and standardized systems is key to unlocking the full potential of reusable packaging.
The Power of Paper and Carton Board Recycling: Advantages and Benefits
Paper and carton board recycling offer significant environmental benefits. With the high recycling rate (81.6%) of these materials, Europe can conserve valuable resources, reduce landfill waste, and decrease the carbon footprint associated with their production.
The circularity of paper and carton boards contributes to a more sustainable packaging industry and aligns with Europe’s commitment to resource efficiency.
Sustainable Sourcing: Progress in Fibre-Based Materials
It is often questioned that sourcing sustainable materials poses a challenge, particularly in the case of fibre-based packaging but Europe has made significant strides in this area, with forests experiencing a 9% growth instead and 90% of them being certified e.g FSC®.
Responsible sourcing practices ensure that the production of fibre-based packaging aligns with environmental, social, and economic considerations.
Consumer Perception Shift: Anticipating Changes on the Horizon
Consumer perception plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of packaging. As awareness grows and sustainability becomes a priority, consumer preferences and expectations evolve.
Companies must anticipate these changes, align their packaging strategies accordingly, and engage with consumers to foster a sustainable mindset and drive positive environmental impact. The entire industry is responsible to make recycling and responsible choices also in packaging are made as easy as possible for consumers.
The “Unboxing Sustainability” episode:” Shaping the Future of Packaging in Europe” offers a compelling exploration of the European packaging landscape, highlighting the significance of recyclability, reusability, sustainable sourcing, and harmonization.
By embracing these principles, Europe can pave the way for a greener and more sustainable future, where packaging plays a vital role in protecting products and preserving our planet.