Making reuse the norm across Europe again
To achieve the EU’s sustainability and climate goals, the way we consume and produce needs to urgently change. We need to redesign products and systems with circularity in mind, in line with the waste hierarchy. The revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive represents an opportunity for Europe to move the focus away from just recycling, and to effectively close the loop. Policy must support this transition by putting in place regulatory measures that guarantee reusable systems are mainstream, interoperable, and accessible to all across Europe.” – Larissa Copello, Consumption & Production Campaigner at Zero Waste Europe
In 2019, the amount of packaging waste generated in the EU was estimated at 177.4 kg per inhabitant. As levels of packaging production and consumption continue to rise, especially for single-use applications, the current waste management systems cannot cope with the increasing amount of waste.
So far, the measures taken to address packaging waste have mostly focused on recycling and failed, with most of it either exported out of Europe or destined for low-value applications. To date, landfilling and incineration are still the dominant approaches to managing packaging waste; and the rates of littering and environmental leakage of plastics remain unacceptable.
Just like you cannot run trains on roads, you cannot run reuse in a system designed for single-use.
It’s time to get back to the good reuse practices that preceded the boom of single-use plastics, and ensure we use our resources in a sustainable, circular way.
In mid-2022, the European Commission will present its proposal on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD). This is the opportunity Europe needs to implement ambitious legislation that prioritises reuse over recycling, in line with the waste hierarchy and moving away from single-use packaging.
Not only is reuse higher in the waste hierarchy than recycling (of single-use packaging), several studies also prove that, in the right situations, reusable packaging performs much better than single-use packaging from an environmental and economic standpoint whilst also bringing about health and social benefits.
Returnable packaging systems are proven to be the best way to increase real circularity and decarbonisation of packaging – and the EU has the opportunity to make them fully mainstream, interoperable, and accessible to all.
It’s time to get back to widespread reuse systems.
The #GETBACK Campaign
For reusable packaging systems to be efficient, a set of conditions need to be in place:
- Collection points;
- Containers (right packaging design and durability;
- Return incentives;
- Reverse logistics;
- Washing, sanitisation and handling of foodware;
- Labelling and education.
The #GETBACK campaign asks for reuse systems to be scaled up and harmonised across Europe through well-designed systems; and for the right infrastructure and policy to be put in place to support this.
The EU should provide legal certainty and direction for the packaging sector, through the new EU packaging legislation, to invest into a systemic and efficient infrastructure for reuse – one that is capable of achieving economies of scale and move away from single-use packaging.
Setting reuse targets by sector, general waste prevention targets, and ensuring the harmonisation and interoperability of reusable packaging across the EU, should be at core of the EU packaging strategy. This can only be successfully done if:
- Reuse systems are included as binding mechanisms in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and in all other related EU legislation pieces; and
- Complementary investment and measures are in place to support and optimise this transition.
With all this in mind…
Dear EU, how about making reuse the norm in Europe again?
Get serious. Get moving. Get back.