At the end of last year, the European Commission has started to revise the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) and its Essential Requirements. After the implementation of the Single-use Plastics Directive (SUPD) which came into effect in July, this revision could mean additional far-reaching changes for the whole plastics industry. In a three-month consultation process that ended at the beginning of the year, stakeholder groups were already able to provide initial input to the legislative process. The consultation was followed by several Commission workshops and an impact assessment study is expected to be published this autumn. The results are to be incorporated into a first draft revision of the PPWD, which is expected to be submitted in the first quarter of 2022. It is important that the current revision process sufficiently takes into account the important role that bio-based as well as biodegradable and compostable plastics can play in reducing environmental and climate impacts. Bioplastics help to close the material cycle as well as the carbon dioxide cycle. In particular, biodegradable and compostable plastics used for food packaging help to use unavoidable waste, a resource that would otherwise be lost in landfill or incineration. Bioplastics thus make an important contribution to creating a true circular economy. 

Although it is still too early to give a comprehensive assessment of the revision’s impact on the plastics industry, especially on the bioplastics industry, some key aspects can already be emphasized. Of particular importance will be the final version of the definition of recycling. This also involves the question which materials should be considered as circular. For bioplastics, it is particularly important that industrial composting remains being a part of the definition of recycling. Organic recycling, which includes industrial composting, is already part of the current definition in the EU Packaging Directive from 1994. The directive regards mechanical and organic recycling, but also chemical recycling, as equally important forms of recovery. 

Another important aspect of the revision is the discussion about a mandatory share of recycled content in every packaging. As an alternative, a bio-based mandatory share should also be promoted to the same extent. In this way, the potential of bio-based packaging in reducing emissions would be sufficiently taken into account. The European Waste Framework Directive as well as the current version of the PPWD already support the use of bio-based resources in the production of packaging. In both cases, the mandatory share could be promoted through Extended Producer Responsibility Fees. 

It remains to be seen how the revision of the PPWD will ultimately take shape and what impact it will have on the bioplastics industry and the plastics industry as a whole. It will also be interesting to see to what extent the revision will ultimately contribute to the goals of the European Green Deal. 

Translated excerpt from the EUBP guest article in German language “Neue europäische Vorgaben zum Umgang mit Kunststoffen” which was published in Packaging Journal, edition 8/2021.   

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