Over the last few years, policy makers in the European Union have focused their efforts on introducing new requirements for food businesses to make the food system more sustainable and resource-efficient. In this context, a regulatory development that is highly relevant to the sports and active nutrition industry is the proposed Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR).
While the new rules have the potential to greatly improve the sustainability of packaging, stakeholders are concerned that the proposed reduction, reuse and recycling measures may compromise food hygiene and security, and generate costly economic burdens on businesses and consumers. With the details of the new rules on packaging and packaging waste currently being refined, here is an overview of this new legislation and its impact to the sports foods sector.
Stricter rules to tackle packaging and packaging waste
In November 2022, the European Commission published the much-anticipated proposal to update the EU legislative framework for packaging and packaging waste. The proposed legislation aims to contribute to the EU's growth strategy for a climate-neutral, resource-efficient and competitive economy. To this end, it suggests stricter targets for the reduction, reuse and recycling of packaging and associated waste. It also sets out rules on the composition and design of packaging to mandate packaging minimisation, as well as new composition and labelling rules to aid recyclability.
To ensure the stringent implementation of the rules, the proposal transforms what has previously been a Directive into a Regulation. This means that the suggested new rules will be directly applicable at national level, without giving Member States the flexibility to amend or loosen the provisions to fit the national context, therefore providing a set of harmonised rules across Europe.
The new and more far-reaching provisions were under consultation from 1st December 2022 to 24th April 2023, giving stakeholders the opportunity to comment on the proposal. More than 500 responses were received from across industry and society, testifying to the importance of the new provisions, as well as raising a number of concerns.
The PPWR from the perspective of the sports and active nutrition industry
In light of the efforts of the sports and active nutrition industry to reduce packaging and waste and adopt more resource-efficient practices, the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA), the trade body for sports and active nutrition in Europe, contributed to the consultation. Overall, ESSNA welcomes the Commission’s proposal for more ambitious reduction, reuse and recycling rules, and its efforts to harmonise national rules.
Indeed, by further harmonising national rules on the prevention of packaging and packaging waste, the PPWR would tackle trade barriers and reduce administrative burdens for sports foods businesses that are active in multiple markets across Europe and currently need to comply with Member States’ different regulatory requirements. For instance, additional harmonisation in the provision of on-label information on recycled content and sorting instructions is of particular importance for the industry, as well as harmonisation rules regarding EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility).
However, ESSNA also pointed out concerns related to some of the measures, urging policy makers to ensure that the upcoming Regulation will not have negative impacts on the industry and its consumers.
For instance, ESSNA identified several risks associated with the new provisions on the return of plastic bottles and beverage containers for reuse and recycling. On the proposed deposit return systems for single-use plastic bottles, ESSNA noted that the Commission needs to ensure that cost-effective take-back infrastructure and technology are developed to avoid higher prices for consumers. And while the industry is generally welcoming of the reuse measures for beverage containers, ESSNA emphasised that small and medium-sized sports foods companies (SMEs) currently lack the necessary infrastructure and systems to ensure the cost-effective return containers.
As hygiene and safety remain the priority of the industry, ESSNA also noted that any new provisions must not negatively impact the quality of sports foods. In this context, it is key to ensure that new rules mandating the reduction of transport packaging will not compromise food safety standards and the integrity of products.
Also, the forthcoming Regulation could create potential recycling challenges with regards to complex packaging materials. Many sports and active nutrition products are often packaged in hard-to-recycle materials, such as triple laminate films. For this reason, ESSNA called for more investments in research and development of new recycling technologies that can recover secondary raw materials from hard-to-recycle packaging materials.
Another focus of the proposal concerns the use of used packaging materials, also called secondary raw materials, and novel materials for new packaging. Many sports and active nutrition businesses, including ESSNA members, are currently looking into alternatives to plastic packaging, such as biobased, biodegradable, and compostable plastics. Yet, the industry continues to encounter difficulties in gaining access to affordable, high-quality secondary raw materials due to their limited availability and high costs. To increase the uptake of secondary raw materials, ESSNA also invited the Commission to facilitate the industry’s accessibility to affordable secondary raw materials, while prevailing the safety and security of these resources. ESSNA’s full position on the PPWR is available here.
ESSNA’s feedback is in line with the objective set out in ESSNA’s Sustainability Pledge: Lifting the Planet. As the first industry driven sustainability initiative of the sector, the Pledge cements the sports and active nutrition industry’s commitment to continue to invest in innovative and circular packaging solutions and adopt efficient waste management practices to minimalise the packaging and waste impact of the industry.
While the new EU Regulation on Packaging and Packaging Waste has the potential to facilitate the sports and active nutrition sector’s transition to sustainability, decision makers need to ensure that new provisions will not compromise food safety and hygiene, and put unnecessary economic burdens on the industry and consumers.
The details of the new rules are currently being refined in the European Parliament’s committees, which have suggested countless amendments to the original text. These amendments not only showcase the contested nature of some of the provisions but also provide opportunities for stakeholders to inform the final position of the European Parliament. Following this, the proposal will be discussed in the Council of the EU. Member States have already indicated their opposition to the new harmonisation measures, which could have negative consequences on the seamless cross-border trade of sports and other foods.
ESSNA is not only following the debates but is also working to ensure that the views of the sports and active nutrition industry are taken into consideration in the final legislation, which is set to be adopted later in 2024. If you wish to learn more about the impact of the PPWR on your organisation, or help shape the future on packaging and waste in the sports foods sector, get in touch with the ESSNA Secretariat via firstname.lastname@example.org