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, Lithuanian, and Portuguese.

Rebuttal to Chemical Recycling Europe’s position paper on Zero Waste Europe’s pyrolysis report

This statement serves as a detailed rebuttal to Chemical Recycling Europe’s (CRE) position paper on Zero Waste Europe’s ‘Leaky Loop “Recycling’ report. The report assesses the viability of pyrolysis, while critically analysing and consolidating findings from twenty-two independent peer-reviewed empirical research papers on the quality of pyrolysis oil derived from plastic waste. This rebuttal challenges CRE’s criticisms, accusing them of lacking robust evidence and providing only rhetorical content in their position paper. The author of ‘Leaky Loop “Recycling’ calls for more substantial evidence from CRE to support their claims and highlights inconsistencies in CRE’s references, particularly in the context of life cycle assessments (LCAs) and operational performance data of pyrolysis processes.

Available in English.

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.

The Colombian Law 2232 on the gradual reduction of the production and consumption of single-use plastic products

In 2022, Colombia took further steps to strengthen the implementation of its National Plan for Sustainable Single-Use Plastics Management. The country has set the goal of making all single-use plastics reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2030.

As part of our activities for the 2023 European Week of Waste Reduction, this factsheet analyses Colombia’s Law 2232 on the gradual reduction of the production and consumption of single-use plastic products. The new law bans 14 specific types of plastic products such as plastic bags and straws, as well as packaging containers used for the retail sale of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Available in English.

Estonia’s updated Packaging Act: a leading example of how to embed reuse nationally

In February 2023, as part of the need to transpose the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD), the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament) passed the Waste Act, Packaging Act and Tobacco Act Amendment Act. The law came into effect on 1 May 2023, with the exception of rules agreed in the SUPD that will apply later or require a transition period.

As part of our activities for the 2023 European Week of Waste Reduction, this factsheet lays out Estonia’s measures to implement the SUPD nationally – from binding actions for packaging companies to mandatory reuse items in public events.

Available in English.

Economics of reuse for street vendors in india

India’s thriving street food sector, currently reliant on single-use plastics (SUP) for packaging, faces a pressing need for sustainable alternatives.

This report by Searious Business, the National Hawker Federation (NHF), and Zero Waste Europe delves into the economic feasibility of a novel reuse system tailored to Indian street food vendors.

While SUP has long been affordable and accessible, it poses substantial environmental challenges, particularly concerning petrochemical production and post-use disposal. The report conducts a robust cost-benefit analysis to address these concerns, comparing the current SUP system with the proposed reuse system. The study’s key objectives encompass an extensive evaluation of the financial implications, costs structures, and potential benefits associated with both systems, emphasising a focus on commonly used street food packaging items – including plates, bowls, cups, and takeaway containers.

Available in English

Prevention and reuse – the only solution to record levels of packaging waste

Levels of packaging waste in Europe are at an all-time high. Over the last decade, its growth outpaced the economy, rising faster than the volume of traded goods. In this regard, the EU Packaging & Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) offers a necessary pathway to reverse the trend of an ever more material and carbon intensive packaging sector, while creating real economic opportunities for truly circular businesses.

The Rethink Plastic alliance, the European Environmental Bureau, and Zero Waste Europe created a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) to help distinguishing packaging myths from packaging facts, and to help push for reuse targets.

Available in English.

Leaky loop “recycling”: A technical correction on the quality of pyrolysis oil made from plastic waste

This report examines the widely promoted pyrolysis method in plastic waste management, shedding light on its inherent limitations. Pyrolysis has been hailed as a solution by industry, but this study reveals significant drawbacks. Incompatibility with different plastic types, low oil yield, and contamination issues mean that the resulting pyrolysis oil must be heavily diluted with petroleum-based mixtures, in some cases at a ratio of over 40:1. To be used in recycled plastic production, the oil requires energy-intensive purification steps or substantial dilution with virgin petroleum naphtha, both of which are not aligned with the objectives of the EU Green Deal.

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.

ZWE submission to the second Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution

Zero Waste Europe has been working on policies and measures targeting plastic pollution since the early 2000s, has done extensive research, movement building, and policy advocacy, and has implemented zero waste solutions since then.

This document contains our submission to the third Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

Available in English.

Joint statement calling for a transparent and reliable policy framework defining recycling content in plastic

Civil society organisations and responsible companies operating in relevant sectors wrote to the European Commission to urge for the prioritisation of robust and transparent chain of custody models for calculating recycled content in the European Commission’s implementing decision that establishes rules for the application of Directive (EU) 2019/904. This has been done in the belief that it is necessary to rectify the decision in order to ensure the highest quality and transparency in the determination of recycled content.

Available in English

Mass balance – time to play fair

There is a consensus that having recycled content obligations in plastic is key to foster the circularity of this material. However, the way to calculate this content is still a major point of discussion.
This infographic presents the rules that must be put in place to ensure real and concrete circularity of this material, benefitting the environment and preventing greenwashing practices.

Available in English, Estonian, French, and Spanish.

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.

Answer to the consultation on the implementing decision of the Single-Use Plastic Directive (SUPD) defining the methodology for recycled content

Zero Waste Europe welcomes the opportunity to provide feedback to the EC consultation on the implementing decision defining the methodology for recycled content as part of the Single-Use Plastic Directive (SUPD). Since the adopted methodology will be the first of this type, it will most likely create a precedent for the upcoming legislative pieces introducing recycled content targets for plastic.