General waste management controls in the EU that apply to packaging and plastics waste are found largely in the following measures:
- Directive 2008/98/EC as amended (the Waste Framework Directive), which sets out a legal framework for dealing with waste and includes, in particular, the definitions of waste, recycling and recovery; end-of-waste criteria; the polluter-pays principle; the concept of waste hierarchy; and the concept of extended producer responsibility (“EPR”).
- Directive 94/62/EC as amended (the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive), which aims to harmonise the management of packaging waste and prevent or reduce the impact of packaging and packaging waste including by setting recovery and recycling targets.
In December 2015, the Commission adopted an EU Action Plan for a Circular Economy. It identified plastics as a key priority and committed itself to ‘prepare a strategy addressing the challenges posed by plastics throughout the value chain and taking into account their entire life-cycle’.
The Commission adopted the Plastics Strategy in January 2018, which set out its vision for a circular plastics economy, made commitments for action at EU level and recommended measures to national authorities and industry. The Plastics Strategy includes the goal of making recycling profitable for business.
In May 2018, Directive (EU) 2018/851 was passed (the Revised Waste Framework Directive). This amended the Waste Framework Directive by, for example, introducing general minimum requirements for EPR schemes and outlining the measures that Member States are required to take to prevent waste generation. More generally, the Revised Waste Framework Directive updated the rules for waste management in the EU.
The Commission has set out that new rules on packaging will be developed to improve the recyclability of plastics used on the market and increase the demand for recycled plastic content. It is noted that with more plastic being collected, improved and scaled up recycling facilities should be set up, alongside a better and standardised system for the separate collection and sorting of waste across the EU.
The European Green Deal was presented in December 2019 and set out a roadmap for no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 framing its ambition on economic growth decoupled from resource use. The Commission stated that it would follow up on the Plastics Strategy and focus on implementing new legislation, including targets and measures for tackling over-packaging and waste generation, legal requirements to boost the market for secondary raw materials with mandatory recycled content, requirements to ensure that all packaging in the EU market is reusable or recyclable in an economically viable manner by 2030 and introduce a regulatory framework for biodegradable and bio based plastics.
The Commission confirmed in the New Circular Economy Action Plan in March 2020 that it will review the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive to reinforce the mandatory essential requirements for packaging and consider other measures focusing on waste reduction, the design of packaging and the complexity of packaging materials. It stated that it will also develop a policy framework on the sourcing, labelling and use of bio-based plastics and the use of biodegradable plastics. In February 2021, the European Parliament voted in favour of adopting the New Circular Economy Action Plan, while also calling on the Commission to direct funding towards circular economy initiatives, propose binding EU targets for 2030 to reduce material and consumption footprints, and propose product-specific and/or sector-specific binding targets for recycled content.
The Commission will also propose a sustainable product policy legislative initiative. This initiative will prioritise specific product groups, including electronics, ICT, furniture and high impact intermediary products such as steel and cement.