New rules will increase food waste, damage industry, and achieve little in terms of environmental gains, argue representatives from produce and packaging industries

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Representatives from the fresh produce and packaging industries have called on Members of the European Parliament to reconsider new proposed EU regulations on packaging and packaging waste, rules they say are unfair, unaffordable, counterproductive, and based on weak legislative foundations.

In an open letter to MEPS, delivered late last week to the Parliament’s president Roberta Metsola and other key officials, the signatories expressed “deep concerns” about a revised version of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) that was recently formulated by EU member states through the European Council.

“We call on the negotiators to seriously consider the position of the EU Parliament to reject single-use packaging restrictions… and to consider the objective weakness of the foundations on which the PPWR is based,” the letter stated.

“The undersigned organisations need a supporting regulatory framework that is fair, realistic and affordable, which means it does not compromise the products’ safety and considers the specificities of the different products.”

The new regulation was originally proposed in late 2022 by the European Commission and amended by the European Parliament late last year. EU member states then had a chance to formulate their own ‘general approach’ to the rules, and it is this version – including its proposed ban on single-use packaging, and on all plastic packaging for products below 1.5kg – which has caused great consternation among produce suppliers and packaging companies.

In the next few weeks, the EC, Parliament and Council are expected to agree a final version, which will then be put to a final vote in the EU Parliament.

As that crunch decision approaches, produce industry organisations including Areflh, Ortofrutta Italia and Belgian producer association VBT have embarked on an intense round of lobbying alongside Copa-Cogeca and Eat Europe, as well as packaging associations Pro Food, EUPC, and Styrenics Circular Solutions.

In their joint letter, they also underlined their commitment to sustainable, circular economies built on the “use, reuse and recycling” of packaging.

“The undersigned organisations… would like to express deep concerns with the outcome of the Council’s General Approach [to PPWR], which is considered to be overreaching and burdensome for the above-mentioned value chain stakeholders,” the group wrote.

“All together, we request that the negotiating parties consider the economic realities of the sectors, take in account the food waste impact, respect consumer safety and avoid arbitrary restrictions that would have a devastating impact on agriculture, food processing, food availability, packaging industry and also distribution, while having no demonstrable benefit to the environment.”

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Serious doubts

Of particular frustration for several industry players is the fact that the position voted by the Parliament back in November 2023 already offered what they said was “a good compromise” that apparently took into account the views of all stakeholders.

But since then, the Council has reintroduced single-use packaging restrictions for fruit and vegetables and the horeca sector within the proposed new rules.

“We fear that such restrictions would harm these sectors and relevant stakeholders, and the ability of single-use packaging to adequately supply the EU market and add value to products,” the group noted. “We know that these provisions would inevitably lead to an increase in food waste with negative environmental impacts, cost increase as well as food safety risks for the consumers.”

National restrictions, such as those introduced by France, can also remain if the rules are not amended further. “This provision is contrary to the internal market legal basis of this regulation, which is intended to harmonise packaging and packaging waste management,” it said. “We foresee the risk of a fragmentation of the internal market that leads to market distortion, unnecessary cost overruns, and competitive disadvantages.”

Produce industry predicament

The group said it was especially concerned about a proposed ban on single-use plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables.

“Packaging for fresh produce is only 1.5 per cent of all food packaging used in the EU today,” it pointed out. “Around 50 per cent of fresh fruits and vegetables are already sold in bulk in the EU.” Such a provision “very likely violates the principle of equal treatment enshrined in EU law”, it added.

A preliminary impact assessment, which it noted had received “numerous comments and criticisms” from within the European legislative system itself, was deeply flawed, the letter went on.

“It refers to multiple models of analysis for environmental, economic and social assessments, with little consistency and possibility to check and replicate the impact assessment results; it is generally not clear about the data sources used and calculation methods; and it limits, omits or hastily resolves the analysis of entire key environmental, economic and social impact categories.”

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That assessment apparently estimates that “attainable environmental benefits” will be less than 1 per cent of Europe’s annual CO2 emissions. “A derisory result, and moreover overestimated, as it does not consider at all the environmental impact caused by increased food waste,” the group stated.

“The assessment does not even consider, in terms of social and economic sustainability, the potential hygiene and consumer safety risks of eliminating single-use food and beverage packaging.”

The letter went on to say that the proposal’s impact assessment basis lacked “robust methodologies” or any proof that single-use packaging had led to an increase in packaging and packaging waste.

It added that between 1999 and 2015, the average weight of plastic cups and containers in the EU had fallen by 35 per cent, compared with 10 per cent for paper ones. It also cited a 40 per cent reduction in the weight of plastic trays, against 13 per cent for those made from cellulose fibre and paper.

No value had been given to their recyclability and existing recycled material content either, it said.

“Even the assessment of the expected economic impacts raises many doubts: it is not clear with which tools the assessments were made and what their level of uncertainty is: certainly, a loss of turnover of €15.4bn and 133,000 jobs for companies affected by the restrictions and bans - often least developed countries – is not neglectable.”