Sustainable packaging
What is the definition of packaging?

Packaging is a functional item that is added to a product to enable the product to bridge time and distance at certain costs and with a certain impact on the environment, with the packaging ensuring that the end user can use the product in an acceptable state. (Source: Ten Klooster, 2008)

Packaging performs the following functions for the packaged product:

  • Packaging makes it possible for the packaged product to be used;

  • Packaging protects or preserves the packaged product;

  • Packaging makes it possible to transport the packaged product;

  • Packaging provides information about the packaged product.

In some cases, packaging and the packaged product may seem inextricably linked. Can the packaging and product still be considered two distinct entities in such situations? To clarify this, the European Commission published a list of illustrative examples of packaging and non-packaging in 2013 (Source: European Directive 94/62/EC, pages 22 and 23). Some packaging is only used for business-to-business purposes and may therefore be considered a ‘logistical aid’.

How can I make sure that my packaging is sustainable?

Sustainable packaging involves developing packaging that has a minimal impact on the environment, without jeopardising the quality of the packaged product. This means that packaging should be designed, produced and processed in such a way as to require as few raw materials as possible and so that it can be reused or recycled.

Making packaging more sustainable therefore goes a whole lot further than simply using less or different materials. Although this is, admittedly, an important step in the process, there are other questions that can be asked first. Companies’ policies and strategies may have to change, for instance, as well as consumer behaviour and all the intermediate stages that packaging goes through.

What is the most sustainable packaging for my product?

It is often rather difficult to say what type of packaging or packaging material is the most sustainable option. You can use a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to determine the environmental impact of a product & packaging combination, which involves assessing energy consumption, material use, waste flows and emissions. Environmental impact is usually expressed in terms of emitted carbon, but it can also be quantified in terms of water consumption, toxicity or other environmental indicators. There are many tools for performing LCAs. Performing an LCA requires specialist knowledge and different tools work in different ways.

Laws and legislation
What laws and legislation must my packaging comply with?

European Directive 94/62/EC lays down the EU’s rules for the management of packaging and packaging waste. These rules cover:

  • improving the quality of the environment;

  • protecting human health;

  • protecting and preserving raw materials;

  • ensuring that the EU’s internal market and competition rules continue to function properly.

On the subject of waste management, Directive 94/62/EC ties in with the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC), requiring EU Member States to ensure that they implement the so-called waste hierarchy. The waste hierarchy describes the preferred order of waste processing methods, with prevention at the top of the pyramid and incineration and landfill at the bottom. For more information, visit: https://packforward.eu/theme/policy-and-strategy/laws-and-regulations.

What are the essential requirements for packaging?

One of the measures introduced by European Directive 94/62/EC is that packaging must meet the so-called essential requirements, which aim to make sustainable changes to packaging as early as the design phase. These requirements affect the manufacture and composition of packaging, as well as the recyclability and recovery or packaging materials. Design choices such as limiting weight, reducing volume and using more sustainable materials can lead to more sustainable packaging. They specify that packaging producers and importers must implement a process to ensure, on a continual basis, that the packaging used is the most optimal for the environment, with consideration for the following criteria:

  1. Manufacture and composition of packaging:

  • The packaging is manufactured in such a way that the volume and weight are as low as possible, while complying with functional requirements in terms of safety, hygiene and acceptability of the packaged product;

  • The packaging is suitable for re-use, recycling or recovery, with minimal environmental impact;

  • The packaging is suitable for incineration or landfill and thus contains no harmful substances.

  1. In respect of re-use of packaging, the following criteria must also be met:

  • The characteristics of the packaging make it suitable for re-use;

  • The packaging can be produced in compliance with labour regulations;

  • If the packaging is no longer being used and has thus become waste, it must comply with the criteria for recovery.

  1. Recovery of packaging material:

  • A certain percentage of the weight of the used packaging material can be used again, or;

  • The packaging must generate energy when incinerated, or;

  • The packaging can be composted in a way that does not hinder composting activity.

  • Biodegradable packaging waste must be physically, chemically, thermally or biologically degradable to the extent that the largest component of the resulting compost ultimately disintegrates into carbon dioxide, biomass and water.

To comply with the essential requirements, companies can implement a process themselves, or make use of the NEN standard ‘Packaging - Requirements specific to manufacturing and composition– prevention by source reduction’ (NEN-EN 13428).

The European Commission is currently reviewing and updating these essential requirements, which should be completed by the end of 2020. The goal of these revised essential requirements is to boost the application of the requirements in practice in order to make reusability a more important consideration during the design process and to encourage high-grade reuse and recycling.

What does the new directive for single-use plastics mean?

As part of the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, (Plastic Strategy) the European Commission has drawn up a directive to reduce the volume of plastic waste in the world's oceans and seas. The measures outlined in the so-called SUP Directive pertain to lost fishing gear and disposable plastic objects, including various types of packaging materials. The SUP Directive must be implemented in all EU Member States by 3 July 2021, while various measures will enter into force at a later date. The directive pertains to all types of plastic; no distinction is made between fossil-based plastics (e.g. HDPE or PS) and bio-based plastics (such as bio-PE or PLA). Specifically, the directive targets the following single-use plastic products and packaging:

  • Beverage containers (including caps and lids)

  • Cigarette filters

  • Cotton swabs

  • Bags and wraps

  • Hygiene products (wet wipes and sanitary towels)

  • Lightweight carrier bags

  • Cutlery, plates, stirrers and straws

  • Drinking cups

  • Balloons and balloon sticks

  • Food holders

Members States must have measurably reduced the use of disposable products for which there is currently no alternative by 2026. Member States must also encourage the use of multi-use, re-usable and recyclable products. Together, the products covered by these rules are responsible for more than 70 percent of all marine litter. The goal of the directive is to encourage companies to develop sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic products and single-use plastic packaging. The proposed measures can be summarised as follows:

  • Reducing consumption
    Member States must realise a measurable quantitative reduction in the use of single-use plastic products. Possible measures include offering alternatives to consumers at points of sale or banning free single-use plastic products.

  • Market restriction
    Member States may prohibit the sale of single-use plastic products.

  • Separate collection targets
    Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure that 77% and 90% of all single-use plastics are collected separately by 2025 and 2030, respectively, e.g. by introducing deposit programmes or expanding producer responsibility.

  • Product design
    Packaging (bottles) with caps and lids may only be sold if the caps/lids remain attached to the packaging after opening.

  • Extended producer responsibility
    Member States may decide to have producers pay for all the expenses incurred in connection with the collection and processing of disposable plastics.

  • Marking requirements and raising awareness
    Certain single-use plastics may be given a striking, clearly legible and indelible mark to show consumers that the packaging in question contains plastics and how/where the packaging should be disposed of after use, and to provide information about the negative consequences of improper waste disposal on the environment.

About Packforward
What is Packforward?

Packforward is the European movement for sustainable packaging. This initiative aims to help different stakeholders in the packaging chain move forward with sustainable packaging. For this to happen, the packaging industry needs dynamic services and knowledge at a European level. Packforward therefore wants to create an effective network to stimulate coherent actions. It also gives an overview of important themes which effect the sustainability of packaging: from the production process and use of product-packaging combinations up to the waste stage. To help make the move forward with sustainable packaging Packforward starts to provide an overview of European research institutes and other important network organisations and stakeholders. Their knowledge is made accessible here as is their area of expertise.

How can I join the Packforward network?

The packforward network consists of knowledge institutes, packaging producers and importers, NGOs, governments and funds that are committed to making packaging more sustainable. You can apply to become a member of the network by following this link.

Who founded Packforward?

The Netherlands Institute of Sustainable Packaging together with partners Fost Plus, Gront Punkt Norway and Valipac have taken the initiative to start Packforward and will continue to strengthen it together with other organisations.