EU needs renewable and recyclable, fiber-based packaging as a solution to EU’s packaging challenges. Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) proposal must be carefully finalized to avoid unintended consequences.

Last week, the Finnish Forest Industries Federation and Huhtamäki Oyj organized an event in Brussels about PPWR and data-driven policy making. Because of the timing and the wide interest in the topic, event gathered approx. 70 participants from EU’s permanent representations, European Parliament, the Commission as well as the industry and the civil society.

The timing for the event could not have been better since the European Parliament Plenary is voting for its PPWR position next week. The PPWR is a key file, not only from the sustainability and environmental but also from the European competitiveness point of view. It is also part of the EU Circular Economy Action Plan, which goal is, that “all packaging should be reusable or recyclable by 2030”. For EU’s competitiveness’ sake, this should be done in an economically viable way.

This is easier said than done. For example, the PPWR’s key aspects are related to water, forests, and energy, which are all different among the 27 member states. This raises questions on the proportionality of the impacts of the regulation. It also seems, that the sustainable material development has been omitted from the PPWR proposal. As Finnish Technical Research Centre VTT also highlighted in their recent open letter, in packaging reuse, recycling as well as sustainable materials and material innovation is needed.

A small variation in the parameters can significantly alter the LCA results

The event gave important aspects to the PPWR discussion, specifically from the LCA point of view. Senior researcher Michael Sturges emphasized the message from the wider group of LCA scientists: “Even a small variation in the methodological parameters or inventory can significantly alter the LCA results”.

Sturges showed this by comparing the use of recycled and virgin board, where the virgin board showed better results from the climate change perspective when the energy production from side streams was considered. Additionally, he showed how the tiniest change in the key parameters (such as quantity of material and number of rotations) changed the preliminary results presented by the Commission research center (JRC) on reuse vs. single use: the results were opposite in terms of CO2 impact and water use. It is clear, that more transparency is required if the JRC study is to be useful for informing the development of the PPWR.

PPWR needs more balanced approach

Regarding the upcoming Plenary vote, the Finnish Forest Industry still calls for a more balanced approach in the PPWR. Based on the keynote presentation and the interventions in the event, this has become even clearer.

- Renewable and recyclable, fiber-based packaging should be acknowledged as part of the solution to EU’s packaging challenges.

- Recycling should be seen as complementary solution to reuse instead of forcing reuse without evidence base and proper impact assessments.

- Definitions related to recycling and recyclability should also be defined in a way that they recognize material recycling. This should be done without only forcing closed loop solutions, which in many cases are not the best solution from the environmental nor economic point of view.

The Finnish Forest Industries Federation actively monitors the developments of the PPWR. Thank you for all the participants of our event and special thank you for our guest speakers.

Guest speakers:
Mrs. Tuuli-Maaria Aalto, the Finnish ambassador
Mr. Michael Sturges, Senior Researcher in the Research Institute of Sweden RISE
Mr. Nils Torvalds (MEP, Renew and PPWR Shadow Rapporteur for the ITRE Committee and Member of the ENVI Committee in the European Parliament)
Dr. Wolfgang Trunk (Policy Officer at DG ENVI, European Commission)
Mr. Atte Virtanen (Vice President, Biomaterial processing and products at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland)
Ms. Anna Papagrigoraki (Sustainability Director at Confederation of European Paper Industry).