Packaging and packaging waste: EU legislation

With a view to reduce impact of packaging on the environment, the EU has laid down legislation that establishes measures concerning the management of packaging and packaging waste. These measures aim at preventing the production of packaging waste, and in addition at reusing packaging, at recycling and other forms of recovering packaging waste and as such to reduce the final disposal of such waste. Although the Directive does not address producers and exporters from developing countries directly, set maximum concentration levels for heavy metals contained in packaging and labelling requirements do apply to all packaging placed on the EU market. Exporters from developing countries have to make sure to comply with the requirements on heavy metal and labelling in order to enter the EU market.

Furthermore, it is very well possible that EU importers (or resellers and distributors) may ask their suppliers to comply with other requirements on packaging reduction and/or prefer recycled packaging materials. These requirements are sometimes forced by national economic instruments established by Member States (e.g. UK and the Netherlands), such as packaging tax. As a result, EU importers are pushed to give more attention to  packaging (waste). From a competitive point of view, producers in developing countries should be aware of this and consider to implement certain packaging procedures in their production processes.

Outline of the legislation
Directive 94/62/EC regulates all packaging placed on the EU market and all packaging waste  regardless of the material used. The Directive complements existing EU legislation covering quality requirements for packaging related to safety, protection of health, hygiene of the packed product, transport requirements and hazardous waste.

Directive 94/62/EC covers:

  • Packaging: All products made of any materials of any nature to be used for the containment, protection, handling, delivery and presentation of goods, from raw materials to processed goods, from the producer to the user or the consumer. ‘Non-returnable’ items used for the same purposes are also considered to be packaging. Annex I to the Directive lists items that are illustrative examples of the application of these criteria. According to that list, tea bags and wax layers around cheese, so called ‘food contact materials’, are considered non-packaging materials, while the film overwrap around a CD case, paper or plastic carrier bags, or labels hung directly on or attached to a product are considered packaging.
  • Packaging waste: The Directive refers to the definition of ‘waste’ in Directive 2006/12/EC as any substance or object which the holder disposes or at some point will or has to dispose. For example, contaminated or soiled materials, materials whose date for appropriate use has expired, spilled, or misshaped materials, adulterated materials, materials of which the use of has been banned by the EU, etc.

The Directive specifies a number of requirements:

Essential requirements

  • Quite general requirements relating to the manufacturing, composition, reuse and recovery of packaging.
  • Relating to the minimisation of weight and volume of packaging and its suitability for reuse, recycling, energy recovery or composting.
  • Further specified in Annex II of Directive 94/62/EC.


Maximum concentration levels

A maximum concentration level of a total of 100 ppm by weight is set for lead, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and mercury in packaging or packaging components (except for lead crystal glass). From this requirement are derogated:

  • Plastic crates and plastic pallets made of recycled material originating from other plastic crates or plastic pallets and in which the introduction of external material is just the minimum technically feasible, up to a maximum of 20% by weight, and provided that the other conditions, as laid down in Decision 1999/177/EC, are fulfilled.
  • Glass packaging produced from recycled material as laid down in Decision 2001/171/EC.


Marking and identification

  • Packaging or the label must be marked: clearly visible, easily legible, appropriately durable and lasting, including when the packaging is opened.
  • A system of numbers and abbreviations to specify the types of recyclable materials in the packaging must be applied on the identification marks. Decision 97/129/EC establishes the basis for the numbering and abbreviation system and lists the materials that are subject to the identification system.
  • Identification marks may be inserted in the centre or below a graphical symbol that identifies the packaging as being reusable or recoverable.

The numbers to be applied are: 1-19 (plastic), 20-39 (paper and cardboard), 40-49 (metal), 50-59 (wood), 60-69 (textiles), 70-79 (glass), and 80-99 (composites).

Please note that your company is also part of a supply chain and therefore your EU buyer might set requirements related to his supply chain management. You might have to pass on some requirements to your supplier as well in order to fulfil the requirements of the EU markets.

European Packaging Standards
Compliance with EU requirements can be shown by using harmonised standards. The European standardisation body (CEN) has released six European standards that support the essential requirements of Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste. The standards cover requirements specific to the manufacturing and composition of packaging, the reuse of packaging and recovery methods of recycling, energy recovery and composting. Exporters from developing countries that implemented these standards in their production processes have full access to all EU Member States without the need to demonstrate conformity with the essential requirements of Directive 94/62/EC, unless there are grounds for suspecting otherwise. In case of such grounds, manufacturers should always make sure to at least comply with the requirements of Directive 94/62/EC to be guaranteed of EU entry.

For more information, refer to the following links:
CBI (Source)
ITC PCKit

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