Packaging Recycling Regulations in the EU and UK – existing and evolving Requirements.
With many different regulations on recycling and waste reduction out there, it can be confusing — and let’s face it, hard work — to make sure each product is labelled correctly, according to the rules of the country it’s to be sold in. In this blog, Ashbury’s Food labelling consultant
Janet Dalzell, shares insight on what current recycling initiatives are in place across the UK and EU:
What recycling regulations apply in the EU?
Identifying packaging materials and recycling instructions for consumers:
Directive 94/62/EC for packaging and packaging waste was implemented in 1994 and last updated in 2018. This legislation was adopted to harmonise national measures concerning packaging and packaging waste and goes beyond just food packaging. It is designed to act as a prompt for Member States to enact legislation that will ensure packaging is reused where possible, through initiatives such as deposit-return schemes or by legislating nationally for a minimum amount of reusable packaging to be placed on the market each year.
Article 8 of the legislation suggested that packaging must be marked to identify what the material is made of. However, it was not until 1997 that the alphanumerical identification system was established, with its use being on a voluntary basis. The most recent 2018 update reiterated Article 8 regarding the indication of packaging components on pack or label, as well as setting recycling targets for Member States to meet.
The 2018 changes came into force in July 2020, spurring several national level changes across the region, including in Italy and France:
Italian Recycling Regulations
Amendments to Directive 94/62/EC prompted Italy to introduce legislative Decree 152 <Link to Italian Recycling Blog>, which comes into force from January 1st, 2022. This requires all consumer packaging on the market to indicate the material it is made of, into which waste stream consumers should place it, and recommends that details on how to recycle are provided.
Recycling Labelling in France
Under French Decree 2014-1577, recyclable packaging must bear the Triman logo, and from January 2022, it will be mandatory on all household packaging (except for glass bottles). It must be accompanied by instructions on how the material should be sorted for recycling.
Other than the Triman logo regulated by another EU member state, France has stated that other symbols using two or more arrows are deemed to be confusing to consumers and will not be permitted under the Decree. This includes the green dot symbol, which is mandatory in some EU states including Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Cyprus so the scheme has attracted criticism as it does not provide mutual recognition <link to mutual recognition in France blog>. Any multi-country labelling will have to consider how the national rules of the intended markets interact.
The impact of both these schemes will be huge for industry, requiring the redesign of labels in a short timeframe against a background of uncertainty as to whether the EU will allow these changes to proceed unchallenged.
Reducing the Impact of Certain plastic products in the EU:
In 2019, Directive (EU) 2019/904 was published detailing efforts to reduce specific plastic products including oxo-degradable plastics which contribute to microplastic levels in our oceans and waterways. The regulation requires a minimum recycled content in plastic bottles for beverages and encourages Member States to set targets for packaging waste recycling. Articles 6 and 7 require:
- Bottle caps and lids made of plastic are non-detachable from the rest of the container
- From 2025 PET bottles contain at least 25% recycled content, rising to 30% by 2030
- Bottles are labelled with the disposal options, stating the presence of plastic and any environmental impact of littering or inappropriate disposal.
- Each Member State should collect 77% of single use plastic bottles placed on the market by 2025, and 90% by 2029 through various means including deposit return schemes and extended producer responsibility schemes.
The EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan:
In July 2021, the European Commission adopted the European Green Deal Initiative
— a set of proposals to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 (from 1990 levels). This goal is to be achieved through suitable climate, energy, transport, and taxation policies, with the longer-term objective of making Europe the first climate-neutral continent — by 2050. The project covers all areas of the EU’s remit, including waste and recycling.
is a key component of the European Green Deal Initiative; it aims to reuse and recycle existing materials for as long as possible and tackle global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and waste. It therefore links to Directive (EU) 2019/904, where Member States should collect 77% of single use plastic bottles placed on the market by 2025 and 90% by 2029 through various tactics.
One such tactic which is gaining popularity across Member States and in the UK are Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) <link to deposit return scheme blog> with 10 Member States planning to introduce a DRS scheme because of the EU Green Deal Initiative.
What recycling regulations apply in the UK?
Since BREXIT, the UK is now in charge of recycling and packaging policy for itself. However, as EU law was retained after transition, many of the same regulations and evolving schemes in the EU apply. Much of the food labelling requirements in the UK are voluntary, with membership organisation On-Pack Recycle Label (OPRL) campaigning for consistent recycle labelling across industry.
In November 2021, the UK government passed The Environmental Act which has a dedicated action plan for waste and recycling. Much like the EU, Deposit Return Schemes are high on the agenda; the Act also introduces the power for government to implement “resource efficiency information” which includes recyclability labelling on products - legislation on the matter is expected by 2026/27.
The most significant regulatory change for 2022 is the UK plastic packaging tax, which will see companies charged for producing, using and holding plastics that do not contain at least 30% recycled content from April onwards. Additionally, a consultation document is currently being reviewed by the UK government to address the low rates of recycling in the UK, currently at just 43.9%. The result will inform future policy developments.
The Pressure is mounting
Although regulations on recycling and labelling can be complex (especially when supplying products to many locations), countries around the world are under more pressure than ever to increase recycling rates and place more recyclable packaging on the market. Consumers — as always — must also be made aware of their responsibilities through clear and transparent labelling. We expect there to be several further changes announced across both the EU and UK in the future.
For advice on recycling food labelling requirements in the UK and across the EU, please get in touch with us – our food regulatory consultants are here to help.
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