June 20. 2024. 2:14

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Ministers demand more flexibility with EU packaging law


Environment ministers from the EU’s 27 member states called for more flexibility in implementing the EU’s proposed packaging law, with Italy and Belgium among those calling for greater wiggle room to meet recycling and reuse objectives.

The Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), tabled by the Euroepan Commission in November, aims to boost waste prevention and recycling, by introducing new targets on reuse and mandatory deposit return schemes for used packaging.

However, during a debate held in the Environment Council on Thursday (16 March), ministers expressed their concern that the proposed law will undermine existing recycling systems already in place across EU member states.

Leading the charge against the proposal is Italy, which has one of the highest recycling rates in Europe when it comes to packaging, according to Eurostat.

“Prescribing methods and solutions that are one-size-fits-all for all member states without any kind of differentiation on the basis of the conditions and circumstances when it comes to the sorting of waste and the recycling targets – we just don’t think it’s the best solution,” said Italian environment minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin.

According to him, it is important to have ambitious shared targets while leaving EU countries sufficient “room for manoeuvre in terms of achieving them”.

His views are widely shared among other ministers who took part in the Brussels meeting.

“What this regulation does is just interfere with national measures which are already up and running, and therefore remove legal certainty,” said Austrian environment minister Leonore Gewessler, who expressed worries for existing deposit return systems in place in EU member states.

To achieve greater harmonisation across EU countries, the European Commission decided to opt for a regulation rather than a directive. While EU directives set objectives which have to be transposed into national law, regulations are directly applicable in national legislation.

But ministers from several EU countries do not agree with this choice and expressed their preference for a directive.

“The choice of the legal instrument – a regulation – is not appropriate” and “will lead to the creation of an inefficient system,” said Belgian environment minister Zakia Khattabi.

“It won’t allow us or won’t help us to achieve our objectives, because it will be far from taking into account the cultural and national specificities and investments and will also curb those states that are frontrunners in this area,” she added.

A directive, on the other hand, will provide member states with ambitious targets and the necessary “margin for manœuvre” to achieve them, Khattabi said.

The European Commission defended its proposal, saying the previous directive has failed to reduce waste.

“We are definitely not going for a directive” because “it just didn’t work” in the past said EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius who spoke during the debate among ministers. “Having a regulation as a legal instrument for setting sustainability requirements at product level has already proved to be a success story in many policy areas,” he argued.

A regulation will also have “huge economic benefits for companies” and industries support this choice, the Commissioner said.

“The industry, including SMEs and multinational companies, strongly complains that the EU market for packaging and waste management is fragmented, and they call for a regulation that can help achieve efficiency gains in a genuinely internal market.”

Brussels tables new reuse and recycling targets to slash packaging waste

The European Commission on Wednesday (30 November) tabled proposals to tackle rising amounts of packaging waste in the EU by introducing new targets for reuse and recycling.

EU countries split over ambition

Under the new packaging regulation, EU member states will be required to reduce packaging waste by 5% by 2030. By the end of 2025, 65% of all packaging waste should be recycled, including 50% of plastic, 50% of aluminium, 70% of glass, and 75% of paper and board.

But while some countries demand more flexible deadlines, others are pushing for more ambitious goals. Chief among those is the Netherlands, which called for higher targets for recycling as well reuse and refill.

“We should be even more ambitious,” said Dutch minister Vivianne Heijnen. “Given the exponential growth of the amount of packaging on the market, we cannot afford to wait until 2040 to achieve reduction,” she said.

Her position was echoed by Luxembourg, but many other ministers do not agree.

“A more gradual approach must be followed,” suggested Petros Varelidis, secretary general at the Greek environment ministry. “Some of these measures can be pursued but gradually and with low percentages so that we can see that they work and if they work, then we can build on them,” he said.

Impact of tourism

Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Malta, denounced the methodology used to calculate waste generation, saying it does not take into account the effect of tourism.

“Tourism fluctuates a lot from one year to another, and that directly affects the packaging waste generated per capita. So, there must be a correction factor in the way we calculate,” Varelidis said.

His statement was echoed by Maltese minister Miriam Dalli, who insisted that member states with “a high influx of tourists and consequently an increased waste generation in absolute terms” are being penalised by the proposed methodology.

Battle lines drawn for EU’s packaging waste law

The EU’s proposed packaging regulation, designed to reverse the growing amount of waste generated in Europe, is set to cause frictions as policymakers in the European Parliament and EU countries hash out their position.