PPWR must seek a balance between recycling and reuse for the benefit of the environment and society
Interacting with corrugated cardboard is a near daily occurrence in most people’s lives. It protects essential goods of all types as they travel around the globe and eventually end up in stores nearby or on our front doorsteps.
Though the brown box might seem humble, it brings immense value to our society, economy, and planet in ways that might surprise you. Discussions in the European Parliament and European Council put these benefits at stake and risk transforming Europe into a plastic economy.
Corrugated cardboard plays a pivotal role in our society and economy at large. In Europe, the corrugated sector employs some 100,000 people directly and 270,000 others in indirect roles all over the continent. The industry generates about €50 billion in sales across the continent, and much of that value is reinvested into local communities.
Most important of all, corrugated cardboard is a real example of circularity and sustainability. The circular economy is vital for achieving the Green Deal ambition for climate neutrality, preserving natural resources and supporting the competitiveness of the European economy. A key feature of corrugated cardboard is recycling, which takes place every day in every country in Europe. Recycling gives valuable materials like paper and board a long-life span as it allows for the reuse of the fibres over and over again. At present, corrugated cardboard’s recycling exceeds 90%, and new cardboard packaging currently contains an average of 89% recycled material.
Corrugated cardboard currently protects about 75% of logistics goods, which includes fragile items like electronics and fresh produce. Corrugated cardboard is fit for purpose and can be customised to package goods perfectly. This ensures that they are safe in transport, because damaged goods have a significantly higher carbon footprint than the packaging used to protect it. Cardboard is also essential when it comes to transporting fresh produce, which requires the utmost hygiene and care as it travels from the farm to the fork. It brings strength as well as high levels of hygiene which ensure that fresh strawberries, for instance, arrive in perfect condition. Damaged produce leads to food waste, negatively impacting the environment, resources and the economy.
The new reuse targets in the proposed Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation could substantially increase plastic packaging, and as a result, plastic waste and pollution. Such a policy shift would bring substantial environmental consequences and contradict the spirit of the European Green Deal. It also risks wiping out a sustainable and circular sector while fostering a plastic economy.
The environmental consequences of reuse are substantial. In the case of transport packaging, an uptick in energy and water usage as well as transport would occur. The reuse of transport packaging would also lead to massive increases in logistics and road congestion due to reuse journeys across Europe. To meet the proposed reuse targets for transport packaging, the market will be flooded by plastic packaging; FEFCO estimates that 8.1 billion additional crates, requiring an additional 12m tons of plastic to be placed on the market which will double the amount of plastic packaging in use.
The European corrugated cardboard sector supports the aims of the PPWR. However, if inadequately defined reuse targets are included in the Regulation, it will devastate the industry and eliminate its impressive sustainability record: a recycling rate that exceeds 90%, the highest of all packaging materials in Europe. The ripple effects of such a policy shift will be wide. They will affect local communities and the entire supply chain. The sector calls on policymakers to ensure that any reuse targets are realistic and only introduced if they can be shown to be positive for the environment, society, and the economy. The PPWR should not promote a one-size-fits-all solution. Reusable and recyclable packaging should be seen as complementary: sometimes the supply chain calls for one solution, sometimes the other.