EU unveils plans to reduce plastic and packaging waste in Europe

The EU executive wants to ban mini shampoo bottles in hotels and the use of disposable cups in cafes and restaurants, as part of sweeping legislative proposals to cut mountains of waste across Europe.

A draft EU regulation published on Wednesday also proposes mandatory deposit and return schemes for single-use plastic drinks bottles and metal cans, as well as an end to e-commerce companies packaging small items in d huge boxes.

The new rules, which will need to be approved by EU member states and the European Parliament, aim to tackle rising plastic and other packaging waste. EU officials estimate that 40% of new plastics and 50% of paper are used in packaging, making the sector a big consumer of virgin materials.

The EU passed legislation in 2019 to ban common single-use plastic items, such as plastic cutlery, stirrers and straws, but officials want to go further to tackle growing amounts of waste packaging. The average European is thought to generate 180 kg of packaging waste every year, which could increase by 19% by 2030 if nothing is done.

According to the latest proposals, EU member states should reduce packaging waste per capita by 15% by 2040 compared to 2018. Officials believe this could be achieved through more reuse and refilling, as well only through stricter controls on packaging. For example, e-commerce retailers should ensure that the empty space in a box is no more than 40% of the product.

Some “avoidable packaging” would be banned outright, such as mini-shampoo bottles in hotels and single-use packaging for small amounts of fruit and vegetables. Hotels, cafes and restaurants could no longer use disposable cups and plates for consumers.

By 2040, restaurants offering takeout would be required to serve 40% of their meals in reusable or refillable packaging, while most on-the-go coffee would be delivered in a reusable or customer-supplied cup.

“The way goods are packaged can and should be much better,” said European Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans. “Such over-packaging is a nuisance to us and increasingly harms our environment.”

“We want more packaging to be reusable because we can’t recycle from a growing stream of waste. And reusable packaging in a well-functioning reuse system is better for the environment than single-use options. »

The commission also hopes to put an end to the confusion about recycling: it is proposing harmonized labels, probably pictograms, to make it clear to consumers which bin to use.

In a separate law, the commission seeks to ensure that products claiming to be “biobased”, “biodegradable” or “compostable” meet minimum standards. In an attempt to crack down on greenwashing, consumers would be able to tell how long an item takes to biodegrade, how much biomass was used in its production, and whether it is truly suitable for home composting.

Pascal Canfin, the MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, described the packaging proposal as a major breakthrough and the most ambitious in the world.

“We have moved from disposable to recyclable and we are concretely embarking on a trajectory of reuse, because it is the most resource-efficient and will also help us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels,” he said.

Ocean conservation group Oceana accused the commission of bowing to industry pressure, pushing back single-use plastics reduction targets to 2040.

“The European Commission’s proposal represents a unique opportunity to stop marine litter at its source,” said Natividad Sánchez, who leads Oceana’s plastics campaign in Europe. “However, it is worrying that the reuse targets for beverage packaging and e-commerce containers have been reduced, and some even halved, compared to the draft text disclosed only a month ago. .”

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