We had a Green Deal, now Europe needs a Health Deal

For too long in the EU, regulators have sidestepped the issue of dealing with the health impacts of chemical exposure. Our economies are still set up in such a way as to prioritise efficiency and convenience, when we urgently need to strive for a set-up that prioritises sufficiency, wellbeing, and resilience. Member State governments and Members of the European Parliament have the opportunity to lead truly transformative change, responsibly shaping legislation around products and waste to prioritise health outcomes for citizens, instead of sweeping them under the rug. This is Zero Waste Europe’s manifesto for a health deal for Europe – which goes beyond the Green Deal to confront hidden dangers in products and ensure a safer, healthier continent.

Available in English.

Functionalisation of paper and cardboard

Paper and cardboard require functionalisation so that they can be used in contact with food. Functionalisation may include adding a barrier function to water, grease, gases, etc. This is mainly achieved through the use of plastic, i.e. the combination of polymer(s) + additive(s). Paper and cardboard food packaging are, therefore, not free from plastic. As such, most paper and cardboard packaging remain at the same level as “single-use plastics”, as defined in the European Directive on Single-Use Plastics.

The English version of this report by M. + Mme Recyclage was made possible thanks to the contributions of Ville de Paris, Zero Waste Europe, the Rethink Plastic alliance, and the ReuSe Vanguard Project (RSVP).

Available in English.

What’s inside food-contact paper packaging? Plastic.

After the well-deserved spotlight given to single-use plastics when it comes to their serious environmental impacts, single-use paper-based and cardboard packaging have covertly taken their space, supposedly as a more ‘sustainable alternative’. The associated narrative has, however, created room for doubts (both from consumers and policy-makers) and for misleading solutions But is switching from one single-use material to another (e.g. plastic to paper) really a solution for the ever-growing packaging waste crisis? While the paper and cardboard industry claims so, evidence has proven that these allegations are distorted and false.

This joint factsheet by Zero Waste Europe, #breakfreefromplastic, Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), Recycling Netwerk Benelux (RNB), and the Rethink Plastic alliance explores the material aspects of paper and cardboard packaging used for direct food contact applications – including, among others, the findings from the “Functionalisation of Paper and Cardboard” report by M.+Me Recyclage.

Available in English, Hungarian, Lithuanian, and Portuguese.

100% greenwash? Green claims on PET beverage bottles in Europe

In this report prepared by Eunomia Research & Consulting for ClientEarth, ECOS – Environmental Coalition on Standards, and Zero Waste Europe, we explore the current state of PET-based bottle recycling in Europe, as well as its potential for improvement, alongside analysis of common claims made to consumers on bottle labels relating to recycling. Such claims can give an impression of ‘plastic bottle circularity’ that does not reflect reality.

Available in English.

Joint Statement: The EU must take more ambitious action on toxic chemicals in packaging, and the PPWR is a good opportunity to do so

In this joint statement, civil society organisations voice their concerns about toxic chemicals in packaging. Recent studies reveal alarming health risks, especially for children, due to exposure to harmful substances. The Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) offers a crucial opportunity for change. The statement urges the EU to enforce stringent rules within the PPWR, eliminating unsafe substances from packaging.

Available in English

Disposable paper-based food packaging – the false solution to the packaging waste crisis

A new report by the Rethink Plastic alliance, the European Environmental Bureau, Zero Waste Europe, Fern, and the Environmental Paper Network reveals the environmental harm caused by replacing single-use plastic with single-use paper packaging. The report clearly shows the need to move away from ever-polluting single-use packaging and towards well-designed reuse systems. The NGO coalition calls on the EU to seize the opportunity the Packaging and Packaging Waste regulation offers, and implement the necessary changes.

Available in English.

Assessing Climate Impact: Reusable Systems vs. Single-use Takeaway Packaging

In this study authored by Zero Waste Europe, Reloop, and TOMRA, and produced by Eunomia Research & Consulting Eunomia, reusable take-away packaging demonstrates its potential for significant greenhouse gas emission reductions compared to single-use alternatives. The study examines various packaging types, including cups, burger boxes, bowls, pizza boxes, and sushi containers, highlighting emissions reduction potential with efficient return and washing systems.

The study identifies breakeven points, such as return rates for bowls and coffee cups to match single-use carbon footprints. Envisioned in 2030, the study foresees efficient collection, washing, and redistribution of reusable packaging, emphasising its role in a cleaner and sustainable future. These findings guide effective reusable system implementation, stressing emissions reduction and design importance, encouraging large-scale trials for validation and refinement.

Executive summary available in English, French, Italian, Croatian, and Ukrainian.

Full report available in English.

Unveiling the Complexities: Exploring LCAs of Reusable Packaging in the Take-Away Sector

As the EU considers reuse targets in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulations (PPWR), this Eunomia Research & Consulting report highlights the lack of transparency from industry leaders in shaping the discussion around reusable packaging. In many cases, influential studies promoting single-use packaging have been found to exhibit biases against reuse due to funding interests and cherry-picked scenarios. The report evaluates three Life Cycle Assessments, highlighting the importance of transparent methodology and accurate assumptions in understanding the true potential of reusable take-away packaging.

Download the full joint report by Reloop and Zero Waste Europe below.

Full report available in English.

Executive Summary available in English and Croatian.

 

Food packaging: safety first

Despite increased attention being paid to the sustainability and principles of circular economy in the European Union, there is a general lack of holistic and harmonised legislative approaches towards materials’ circularity and the critical aspects of their chemical safety. A more coherent EU policy on consumer safety issues is not only highly desirable, but human biomonitoring data on harmful chemicals detected in the entire EU population show that it is urgently needed.

This ZWE policy briefing lays out proof and tried-and-test arguments towards toxic-free and future-proof packaging.

Executive Summary available in English and French.

Full briefing available in English.

The economics of reuse systems

After elimination, the widespread uptake of reusable packaging has the highest potential to reduce plastic production. This view is sustained by a recent shift in legislative focus in the European Union’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) and the United Nation’s Global Plastic Treaty to end plastic pollution. However, several brands and industry associations have been hesitant to wholeheartedly embrace reusable packaging.

The study by Searious Business and Zero Waste Europe examines 3 packaging categories in an open loop system (so not within one location), in Spain as an archetype country: 1) food containers for takeaway food, 2) secondary transport packaging and 3) beverage bottles. The results show that reuse packaging will only become even more economically viable in the next few years and providing faster return on investments.

Executive summary available in English, Estonian, Montenegrin, Ukrainian, and Polish.

Full report available in English, German, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Italian.

Reinventing glass

Single-use glass is proven to have the highest overall environmental footprint compared to other single-use materials. On the other hand, reusable glass offers the greatest potential to reduce environmental impacts: reusable glass bottles produce 85% fewer carbon emissions than their single-use counterparts, 75% fewer carbon emissions than plastic (PET), and 57% fewer carbon emissions than aluminium cans.

Taking into account the findings of the ZWE-Eunomia ‘Decarbonisation of single-use beverage packaging’ study, ZWE and Reloop urge the EU Packaging & Packaging Waste Regulation to set the path for single-use glass to be replaced with reusable glass in the coming years.

Available in English, Polish, and Croatian.

Decarbonisation of Single-Use Beverage Packaging

Commissioned to Eunomia Research & Consulting by Zero Waste Europe, this study builds upon Eunomia’s previous investigation into materials decarbonisation pathways in the report “Is Net Zero Enough for the Material Production Sector?”.

Focussing on the four materials with the greatest emissions globally, the study found that each will have great difficulty in reducing GHG emissions in line with a 1.5°C future by 2050, particularly if mass consumption continues and increases. Whilst studying the global material picture provides valuable insights; policymakers may find it more useful to have the same approach applied at the product level. Therefore, this study delves into the Net Zero pathways of aluminium, PET, and glass when utilised in beverage packaging within the EU, evaluating their potential performance within a cumulative GHG emissions budget that aligns with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

Full report available in English. Executive summary available in English, French, and Latvian.

Debunking common myths about food hygiene, food waste, and health concerns related to reusable packaging

When it comes to packaging for food and beverages, misconceptions about its relation to food hygiene, health concerns, and food waste have been spread by the interested industry for some time. Those concerns were raised especially in the current debate on the revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). As such, this factsheet aims to bust some of the most common myths.

Available in English, Estonian, French, Hungarian, Montenegrin, Latvian, and Slovenian.

Ensuring safe recycled content in food packaging: ambition vs reality

When it comes to Food Contact Materials (FCMs), the use of recycled content potentially creates new pathways through which humans can be exposed to hazardous chemicals in contaminated recycled material flows. 

Today, recycling technologies have not proved to be able to remove all toxic chemicals already present in plastic in the first place and current regulations shift this responsibility away from plastic producers to recyclers, who struggle to process many unrecyclable or difficult-to-manage plastics,

Regulatory framework must be ambitious enough to urgently phase out the most hazardous chemicals to ensure food packaging and other food contact articles are truly safe for use, reuse and recycling.

The full report is available in English. The Executive Summary is available in French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and German.

Marrying safety with sustainability in food packaging – Briefing for businesses

‘Safety’ and ‘sustainability’ concepts are directly interlinked: in order for food packaging to be truly sustainable, it needs to be safe for both human and environmental health. Within this briefing we aim to provide businesses with a better understanding of the issues linked to hazardous chemicals in food contact materials and highlight the opportunity for businesses to adopt circular economy practices using non-toxic and reusable materials that protects human health.

Full report available in English. Executive summary available in English, French, Spanish, Dutch and German.