Co-ops react to European Parliament position on EU-wide packaging rules

Copa and Cogeca welcomed changes to the position but warned some measures could still cause problems for its members

On 22 November the European Parliament adopted its position on new EU-wide rules on packaging which gives it a mandate for negotiations with member states.

The position, passed with 426 votes in favour, 125 against and 74 abstentions, set out packaging reduction targets of 5% by 2030, 10% by 2035 and 15% by 2040. It also establishes specific targets to reduce plastic packaging (10% by 2030, 15% by 2035 and 20% by 2040).

Other measures include banning the sale of very lightweight plastic carrier bags (below 15 microns) unless required for hygiene reasons or provided as primary packaging for loose food to help prevent food wastage; and heavily restricting the use of certain single-use packaging formats, such as hotel miniature packaging for toiletry products and shrink-wrap for suitcases in airports.

MEPs are also asking for a ban on the use of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, also known as “forever chemicals” or PFASs and Bisphenol A in food contact packaging.

Rapporteur Frédérique Ries (Renew, BE) said: “Recent events in Europe, and particularly in Belgium, concerning water pollution by PFAS chemicals show the urgent need for action. By voting to ban ‘forever’ pollutants in food packaging, the European Parliament has shown that it seeks to protect the health of European citizens.

“Regarding plastics, the contract has been fulfilled, since my legislative report tackles the heart of the issue by setting tougher waste reduction targets for plastic packaging. Unfortunately, on the circular economy, and prevention in particular, the outcome of the plenary vote is not so positive and ignores the reality of the figures: a 30% increase by 2030 if we don’t act now. Of the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), only recycling escaped unscathed. The end of throwaway packaging is still a long way off.”

Copa and Cogeca, the voice of European farmers and their co-ops, welcomed the position, arguing that it includes improvements to the initial proposal, and takes into account the specific characteristics and realities of agricultural sectors.

“Among the improvements, we welcome a notable reprieve for the wine sector that MEPs voted to exclude from reuse targets, along with exemptions for in-sale spirits from reuse targets, avoiding arbitrary and unfeasible targets for these sectors,” it said.

But the apex argued that some provisions could be problematic for its members.

“The survival of restrictions for packaging design, which would have negative effects on the wine sector, which relies on features such as double bottoms that reinforce the strength of bottles in transit, remains problematic,” it said.

“For the fruit and vegetables and horeca [hotels, restaurants and catering] sectors, MEPs also voted down restrictions on single-use packaging, safeguarding not only consumer health and safety but also the commercial viability of producers. As Copa and Cogeca have consistently voiced concerns on this provision that would inevitably increase food waste, this outcome is very welcomed by farmers and agri co-operatives.”

“Finally, a heavily publicised amendment safeguarding wood packaging for cheese was good news for our producers.”

Copa and Cogeca added that it is calling on the council “to take due consideration the vote in Strasbourg so that this regulation contributes to a realistic, evidence-based, and affordable circular economy”.

Packaging generated a turnover of €355bn in the EU in 2018.