EU set to adopt mandatory recycled content targets in new packaging law

The European Commission wants to reduce the environmental impact of packaging by mandating that producers use a minimum amount of recycled plastic in new packaging placed on the market.

Only 5% of plastic in packaging came from recycled sources in 2019, according to industry group Plastics Europe. And recyclers face an uphill battle to sell secondary materials in a market dominated by cheaper and higher-quality virgin supplies.

To tackle this, Brussels is expected to boost the demand for recycled plastic by broadening recycled content targets from plastic bottles to all plastic packaging.

A proposal in that direction will be put forward as part of the revision of the EU’s packaging and packaging waste directive, which is expected on 30 November.

A leaked draft of the proposal, seen by EURACTIV, requires all plastic packaging placed on the EU market to “contain certain minimum amount of recycled content recovered from post-consumer plastic waste” as of January 2030. 

The 2030 targets, which are tentative and could still change before the proposal is published, would increase again by 2040 in the following way:

  • 25% for contact sensitive plastic packaging like food wraps (50% as of 2040)
  • 50% for single use plastic beverage bottles (65% as of 2040)
  • 45% for other plastic packaging (65% as of 2040)

Whatever targets are eventually adopted, the intention is clear – Brussels wants to boost the market for recycled plastics by mandating a minimum amount of recycled material in new packaging.

The move is also expected to push up collection rates and drive companies to design products in line with the recycling process as it becomes in their interest to do so, according to the recycling industry association, EuRIC.

“If you want to have recycled content, you must have eco-design,” said EuRIC secretary general Emmanuel Katrakis. “You must have proper collection. You must have recycling. You must have industries that are going to buy recycled materials. Then it’s the responsibility of everyone to make sure that it works,” he told EURACTIV.