Yesterday the European Commission tabled some proposals in the shape of a new Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation directly aimed at the rising amounts of packaging and packaging waste in the EU which has grown steadily since the turn of the century. Of course packaging is often seen as problem itself perhaps overlooking the critical functionalities of packaging in protecting food, medicine, and general products. But despite this and the underlying demographic trends of more and smaller households – by any realistic measure, there is more packaging today than in 2000.

Which creates a challenge for policy-makers, regulators and the industry that strives to support efficient and affordable product systems. And create increasingly more circular systems.
The latest aims emerging from Brussels are to have all packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030 and to introduce new targets for reuse and recycling and for the first time introduce targets to reduce the amount of waste packaging per person and country (5% by 2030 and 15% by 2040).

Reuse is very much in focus and companies will have to offer a certain percentage of their products to consumers in reusable or refillable packaging, for example takeaway drinks and meals or e-commerce deliveries and restrictions will be placed on some single-use packaging e.g. for food and beverages when consumed inside restaurants and cafes.   On the recycling front other measures in the proposal include mandatory deposit return schemes for plastic bottles and aluminium cans by 2029 unless an EU country can prove it has reached 90% collection by other means!

But Brussels is Brussels, right? Well yes and no. Whilst the proposed regulatory frameworks may no longer need to fully align between European Member States and non-EU countries such as the UK – the product manufacturing and ancillary services – very much align to a regional template.  This helps to deliver the standardised and harmonized packaging and distribution of products and of course should make it easier to recycle.

For Novelis as the world’s largest recycler of aluminium, the widespread adoption of Deposit Return Schemes cannot happen soon enough (e.g. before 2029) as a mechanism to accelerate high volume and high-quality collection of aluminium beverage cans suitable for closed loop, product to product recycling. And as an industry together with beverage can makers who have aligned towards a 100% recycling goal by 2030 – so 90% by 2029 is very much a late milestone on that critical path.

So Brussels or not – the future of packaging systems in Europe became a little clearer this week and once again it’s going to be a lively time in years ahead.