EU plans to tackle waste packaging meets mixed response from the co-op sector

Co-op retailers welcomed the move but agri co-op apex Copa Cogeca was more critical, viewing some targets as unrealistic

The European Commission has recommended new EU-wide rules to tackle the problem of plastic pollution and waste metal from the packaging industry – meeting a mixed reaction from the co-operative sector.

Announced at the end of November, the proposed change to EU law has three main objectives: to prevent the generation of packaging waste; to boost recycling; and to reduce the need for primary natural resources while creating a well-functioning market for secondary raw materials.

The Commission’s proposal sets the target of is reducing packaging waste by 15% by 2040 per member state per capita, compared to 2018. 

Measures include: mandatory rates of recycled content that producers have to include in new plastic packaging, creating mandatory deposit return systems for plastic bottles and aluminium cans; and making it clear which very limited types of packaging must be compostable so that consumers can throw these to biowaste.

The plans were welcomed by Euro Coop, the federation of European consumer co-operatives, which said that retail co-ops “have always been committed to reducing the use of plastics in their activities and they have already adopted several packaging waste measures.” 

Euro Coop gave examples of some of its members’ initiatives, such as Spain’s Eroski cutting more than 1,100 tons of single-use plastic per year and the UK’s Co-op Group replacing plastic packaging with cardboard to reduce single use plastic, and introducing recycling bins in over 800 of its stores across the UK.

But Copa-Cogeca, the voice of European farmers and their co-operatives, was more critical of the proposals. 

It said that “more sustainable packaging should be based on realistic, fair, and feasible targets if to not defeat the purpose,” arguing that while the revision of the directive into regulation is a step in the right direction, some of the targets, notably for recycled plastic packaging content and reuse/refill, “overlook the reality on the ground and the implications, in particular for wine, fresh fruit and vegetable producers in a difficult socio-economic context”.

Copa-Cogeca claims the proposed mandatory recycled content targets for plastic packaging are unrealistic and run against the objectives of encouraging the uptake of consumption of more fruits and vegetables. 

The apex also complained about the proposed ban on single use packaging for less than 1.5kg of fresh fruit and vegetables, which it views as “disproportionate”, and the proposed requirement for stickers to be compostable.

“Restrictions without workable alternatives will result in protection and shelf life being drastically reduced, as well as hygiene, organoleptic quality and traceability being compromised. In this light, the restrictions  would not improve  the  supply  chain’s  environmental  impact; conversely, they would increase it as well as food waste,” it said.

And the proposal to set mandatory reuse/refill targets for wine poses “significant hygiene risks,” it warned.

“With bottles often being used by consumers for different purposes; collection, cleaning, and reuse  constitute a very energy,  fuel and water-intensive exercise that increases the risk of entry and development of pathogens,” it said.

“It is for this reason that reuse is not recommended in the reference health guide of the wine sector. Moreover, any mandatory reuse targets would run counter to the recycling objective to achieve packaging circularity. On top of this there is the logistical complexity of organising mandatory collection and transportation, as well as the lack of adequate infrastructure.”

The apex said it wants to see bio-based content recognised in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) alongside recycled content, arguing that this approach could “serve to reduce EU’s dependency on fossil resources and enhance bioeconomy, stop the current trend of over packaging and excessive waste, and ultimately deliver better economic and environmental outcomes.”

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