Industry Committee attempt to undermine new EU packaging law

Three votes in Parliament this week on Europe’s new packaging law aim to favour the throwaway packaging industry and undermine measures to curtail record levels of waste.

The European Parliament’s Committees on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) and Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) Committees all vote on their respective reports on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation this week, reacting to the proposal tabled by the European Commission in November 2022. 

Although leadership of the file remains with the Environment Committee who will not vote until September, the three reports set a worrying tone for the landmark waste file. 

Today, ITRE Committee voted with 58 in favour, 11 against and 3 abstentions on the report,  led by Italian Socialist MEP Patrizia Toia which was voted as a single compromise.

Mirroring the requests of the laggards in the packaging industry, the report decimated ambitions on reuse and waste prevention, deleting all reuse targets for the HORECA sector as well as all 2040 reuse targets across sectors. Further key provisions were also removed in the report such as mandatory deposit return systems for beverages and most of the measures to tackle unnecessary packaging. The industry committee also moved the definition of recyclability from the Commission-led delegated acts to the European standardisation body CEN, an opaque industry led body unlikely to help remove all non-recyclable packaging from the market by 2030. 

Due to its shared competency with the environment committee on aspects such as reuse and refill targets, the result in ITRE could endanger key provisions until the plenary vote expected in autumn 2023. Campaigners had already warned that too much flexibility in the new packaging law risked repeating the mistakes of the existing directive by permitting a business as usual approach from packaging producers. Similarly, the removal of waste prevention measures will make it impossible for Member States to deliver on waste prevention targets also included in the proposal. Continuing to offer derogations, loopholes and no legal certainty to the packaging market will maintain the current trajectory to ever growing levels of packaging waste and clearly undermines the objective to make all packaging reusable and recyclable by 2030. 

“Today’s vote by the Industry committee undermines the objectives of the regulation without offering any credible solutions to reduce packaging waste. The environment committee and the whole Parliament must reject this irresponsible attempt to defend wasteful practices which have led to record levels of packaging waste and pollution. Decision-makers should resist vested interest and seize this opportunity to promote more sustainable packaging practices.” Marco Musso, Senior Policy Officer – European Environmental Bureau

A vote in the IMCO Committee, also concluded yesterday, saw the draft report prepared by France’s right wing MEP Virginie Joron (ID) overturned by an alternative compromise text tabled by a conservative, socialist, liberal and green coalition. The outcome of the vote offered a glimmer of hope for the regulation. The alternative amendments included some improved provisions such as stronger requirements on online marketplaces to ensure compliance with extended producer responsibility fees. 

Discussions in the AGRI Committee are ongoing with a vote on their report, led by conservative MEP Salvatore De Meo, expected this afternoon. The report focuses on maximising flexibility on any provisions related to the food sector, including a raft of exemptions to reuse and waste prevention measures. The report also aims to delete reuse targets for 2040. 

Previously campaign groups warned Agricultural ministers not to be led astray by misinformation on the links between food safety  and single use packaging. Growing evidence also proves that record levels of packaging have not had a real impact on food waste.

“The outcome of today’s vote contradicts the Parliament’s commitments on the Circular Economy and the Green Deal. Up to now, EU policies have been focusing on managing waste rather than preventing it, and that led us to a packaging waste growth of 20% in 10 years. The need for ambitious waste prevention and reuse targets is unquestionable. It is very unfortunate that some industry players and MEPs are not seeing the opportunity behind the reuse targets, which has amazing potential for producers to achieve both resource and cost efficiency for their packaging. We hope the ENVI committee will correct the course and adopt a text that seizes the opportunity of reuse and waste prevention” Larissa Copello, Packaging & Reuse Policy Officer at Zero Waste Europe.

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