Packaging and Packaging Waste

The Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste aims to prevent or reduce the impact of packaging waste on the environment of member states and of third countries. It “lays down measures aimed, as a first priority at preventing the production of packaging waste and, as additional fundamental principles at reusing packaging waste and, as additional fundamental principles at reusing packaging, at recycling and other forms of recovering packaging waste and hence, at reducing the final disposal of such waste.” Effective implementation of the measures should reduce the harmfulness and quantity of “materials and substances contained in packaging and packaging waste” at all stages the life cycle.

It is assumed that “the best means of preventing the creation of packaging waste is to reduce the overall volume of packaging.” It therefore calls upon producers to design packaging so that its “volume and weight [are] limited to the minimum adequate amount to maintain the necessary level of safety, hygiene and acceptance for the packaged product and for the consumer.” It should be “designed, produced and commercialised in such a way as to permit its reuse or recovery, including recycling, and to minimise its impacts on the environment when packaging waste or residues from packaging waste management operations are disposed of.”

“Hazardous substances and materials as constituents of the packaging material…[should be] minimised with regard to their presence in emissions, ash or leachate when packaging or residues from management operations or packaging waste are incinerated or land filled.”

Specific guidelines are laid down for the properties of packaging suitable for reuse, recycling, incineration and composting. Producers should also attempt to utilise recycled material in new packaging, but must not “contradict relevant provisions on hygiene, health and consumer safety.”

The Directive covers all packaging placed on the market in the European Community and all packaging waste, whether it is used or released at industrial, commercial, office, shop, service, household or any other level. The term packaging is defined as “all products made of any materials of any nature to be used in the containment, protection, handling, delivery and presentation of goods, from raw materials to processed goods, from the producer to the user or consumer.”

A standard marking system for packaging shall be introduced so that packaging waste materials can be identified for effective collection, reuse and recovery. The markings should be “clearly visible [,] easily legible…[and] appropriately durable”. It is also important that consumers “be adequately informed in order to adapt their behaviour and attitudes” to reliably fulfil their role in the management of waste packaging.

The Directive is based on the polluter pays principle, but much of the responsibility is placed on member states to provide the necessary infrastructure and facilities for collecting and treating packaging waste.