Inside Brussels – Alexis Van Maercke on steel for packaging in EU policy discussions

With the European elections now a distant memory, and newly elected MEP’s settling into their roles, EU legislation continues to move towards a vision of circularity and sustainability – in design, recycling and food systems – with remarkable speed and intensity.

On the subject of food waste, we welcomed the legislation that entered into force on 17 October 2019, establishing a common EU methodology to measure food waste. Indicative food waste targets were already foreseen by the June 2018 Circular Economy Package (CEP) – 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030 for all member states1. The framework of what to measure and how is now clear for all, along with a requirement for all Member States to start collecting data on food waste as of 2020 and reports on national food waste levels to be provided by mid-2022.

The EU reporting framework will help standardise reporting of food waste levels by business and contribute to global monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goal Target (12.3) to halve the per capita global food waste at retail and consumer level by 2030. A 2030 EU vision for sustainable food systems “from farm to fork” is also under construction.  This vision aims to transform the way the EU produces, stores, transforms, distributes and consumes food in order to ensure food security, quality and safety for all EU citizens. It’s a move welcomed by our industry, because food packed in steel has a clear role to play in any strategy towards the safe preservation of food for lengthy periods of time.

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On the reporting of composite materials, secondary legislation from the “Circular Economy Package” amending the Waste Framework Directive and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, sets new rules for the calculation and reporting obligations for composite packaging and other packaging composed of more than one material. The Commission Implementation Decision 17 April 2019 states in its Art. 6c, 2: “composite packaging and other packaging composed of more than one material shall be calculated and reported per material contained in the packaging. Member States may derogate from this requirement where a given material constitutes an insignificant part of the packaging unit, and in no case more than 5 % of the total mass of the packaging unit.”

These rules will be applicable as from 2020 onwards and will be a considerable challenge for some packaging material producers.  One example would be the +/- 21% polymers in beverage cartons that may no longer be reported as paper.

It’s a change that will clearly impact packaging design, pushing an approach that designs for circularity and where there the true winners will be higher recycling and greater resource efficiency.

On designing for recyclability, the European Commission is also currently working on secondary legislation on the so-called ‘Essential Requirements of packaging’ (design rules) and eco-modulated fees (to be paid by the parties responsible for packaging), to further promote the usage of packaging that is highly recyclable.

One of the possible scenarios is via a bonus (for highly recyclable packaging) and a malus (for poorly or non-recyclable packaging) systems, which is a way forward that the steel for packaging industry openly supports alongside other permanent materials. Ultimately such measures will help recognition of the role permanent materials, such as steel, play in a resource efficient and circular economy.

Finally, we’re pleased to partner, for the third year in succession, the 2020 MEP Awards taking place next 25th March in Brussels. We look forward to presenting the award for initiatives in the Environment category. Remember to nominate and maybe see you there!

1 compared to a baseline of 2014