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Environment

Packaging waste

EU rules on packaging and packaging waste, including design and waste management.

Image of different types of packaging
© YinYang / Getty Images

Main law: Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive

Entry into force: 31 December 1994

Connected topics: Circular economy Plastics Plastic bags

Connected strategies: Circular economy action plan Plastics Strategy Single-use plastics Directive

Connected Commission priorities: European Green Deal

Overview

EU rules on packaging and packaging waste cover both packaging design and packaging waste management. They aim to deal with the increasing quantities of packaging waste, which cause environmental problems. They also aim to remove barriers in the internal market – caused by EU countries adopting different rules on packaging design. 

Although the implementation of these rules has been considered a success, the amount of packaging waste in the EU is still increasing, and too many of our finite resources are being wasted without being recirculated into the economy.

Background

EU rules on packaging cover all types of packaging and packaging waste placed on the European market. This means all materials, and packaging including industrial, commercial, household and other sectors.

These rules regulate what kind of packaging can be placed on the EU market, as well as packaging waste management and packaging waste prevention measures. All packaging placed on the EU market has to comply with essential requirements related to its manufacturing, composition, and reusable or recoverable nature. 


The EU has revised and amended its laws on packaging several times. These amendments include 

  • amending Annex I with a list of illustrative examples of packaging
  • adding sustainable consumption reduction measures for plastic carrier bags in 2015
  • setting additional waste prevention and reuse obligations for EU countries, and raising recycling targets on packaging waste
  • providing for mandatory setting up of packaging Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes as part of the legislative proposals adopted under the circular economy package in 2018

Objectives

The Packaging Directive aims to

  • harmonise national measures on packaging and the management of packaging waste
  • provide a high level of environmental protection
  • ensure the good functioning of the internal market

The latest amendment to the Directive contains updated measures to

  • prevent the production of packaging waste, and 
  • promote the reuse, recycling and other forms of recovering of packaging waste, instead of its final disposal

Among other rules, by end of 2024, EU countries should ensure that producer responsibility schemes are established for all packaging. The Directive also sets the following specific targets for recycling. 

 Current targets (%)By 2025 (%)By 2030 (%)
All packaging556570
Plastic255055
Wood152530
Ferrous metals50 (incl. Al)7080
Aluminium-5060
Glass607075
Paper and cardboard607585

Law

Secondary law

Communication on beverage packaging, deposit systems and free movement of goods

Marking and identification

Data and reporting

Derogations

Notification of draft measures Member States intend to implement within the framework of the Packaging Directive

Case law

See case law of the European Court of Justice with relevance to packaging and packaging waste.

Review of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive

The Commission is currently assessing options to review the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive. Article 9(5) of the Directive, inserted by the 2018 revision of the Directive, calls upon the Commission to revise the essential requirements for packaging with a view to, among others, improving design for reuse and promoting high quality recycling, as well as strengthening their enforcement.

This review will contribute to reaching the objective of the European Green Deal and the new circular economy action plan (CEAP) to ensure that “all packaging on the EU market is reusable or recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030”.It will also contribute to the objective of 2018 European Strategy for Plastics, in which the Commission committed to ensure that by 2030 all plastics packaging placed on the market can be reused or recycled in a cost-effective manner”.

As a first step in this process, a Study on the Effectiveness of the essential requirements for packaging and packaging waste and proposals for their reinforcement was carried out and completed in early 2020.

In line with the Commitments taken in the new CEAP, in addition to the revision of the essential requirements for packaging, the Commission is also assessing possible measures to reduce (over)packaging and packaging waste, promote the uptake of recycled content in packaging, and set minimum mandatory green public procurement criteria and targets for packaging.

The Inception Impact Assessment was published on 11 June 2020 on the Commission’s website with a feedback period, which lasted until 6 August. A study in support of this review process was launched in February 2020. In addition to targeted stakeholder consultations and interviews as well as several workshops, which have and will still take place, an open public consultation was held from September 2020 to 6 January 2021 and concluded with almost 500 responses from general public and stakeholders.

Implementation

Information about the implementation of the Packaging Directive, including implementation reports, harmonized standards for packaging, monitoring and evaluation.

Information of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive

More information

Timeline

Key dates related to EU policy on packaging

  1. 30 September 20 - 6 January 21
    Open public consultation on the review of requirements for packaging and other measures to prevent packaging waste
  2. 30 May 2018
    Packaging Directive amended to reinforce prevention and to promote reuse and recycling of packaging waste
  3. 29 April 2015
    Packaging Directive amended to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags
  4. 20 December 1994
    Packaging Directive enters into force

Publications

You can also find out more about packaging waste and waste management on the websites of the Environmental Data Centre on Waste, and the European Environmental Agency.

Contact

For more information about EU rules on packaging waste, please contact our functional mailbox.