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Laws and regulations

When developing and introducing a new (sustainable) packaging, you must take all manner of legislation at both the European and national level into account. This section covers laws and regulations pertaining to the sustainability of packaging materials.

Per market and type of packaging, packaging materials may be subject to:

  • European directives and legislation 
  • Rules and regulations in Member States
  • Voluntary agreements 

European directives and legislation

The main directive for packaging is Directive 94/62/EG and the amendments made in Directive (EU) 2018/852. The goal of these Directives is to limit the use of packaging materials and stimulate recycling, reuse and other useful applications for packaging waste. Directive 94/62/EG entered into force in 1994. The amendments made in Directive (EU) 2018/852 will be implemented in the national legislation of all EU Member States.

For (plastic) packaging materials, the following are important:

  • Directive (EU) 2018/852 (all packaging) amending Directive 94/62/EG
  • EU-Waste Directives 2018 (all packaging)
  • EU Single-Use Plastics Directive (plastics)
  • EU Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy (plastics)


In Directive 94/62/EG, the focus is on making packaging materials more sustainable. The measures with which to realise this are recorded in the form of essential requirements. The supplemental Directive (EU) 2018/852 is intended to contribute to the transition to a circular economy: Preventing packaging waste, stimulating the reuse of packaging materials and recycling packing materials instead of eliminating them from the chain entirely.

The EU Member States have to take measures to increase the percentage of reusable packaging materials on the market. Examples of measures to this effect include:

  • deposit schemes
  • economic incentives
  • a minimum percentage of reusable packaging materials put on the market for each packaging type.

By the year 2025, a form of producer responsibility has to be in place for all packaging types in all EU Member States. The schemes are to ensure that used packaging materials and packaging waste are returned or collected and then recycled or reused in the most suitable manner.

The Essential Requirements are part of Directive 94/62/EG. They are still in effect even after the amendments made in Directive (EU) 2018/852. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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).

Furthermore, the Directive specifies minimal recycling percentages for packaging waste. Each percentage applies to a specific type of material. Since 2005, targets from Directive 94/62/EG have been in effect. From 2025 and 2030, new and higher percentages will have to be met:

Material EU targets 2005 onwards EU targets per 2025 EU targets per 2030
Glass 60% 70% 75%
Paper/Cardboard 60% 75% 85%
Wood 15% 25% 30%
Metal 50% 70% (ferrous metal) 50% (aluminium) 80% (ferrous metal) 60% (aluminium)
Plastic 22,5% 50% 55%

Directive 2008/98/EG is part of the larger “Waste Package” that was adopted by the European Commission in 2018. With the introduction of this package, a total of six existing directives pertaining to waste materials are amended. The amendments are designed to prevent urban and packaging waste, stimulate reuse and recycling and phase out land filling of waste materials. Furthermore, measures are being taken to ensure that the producer responsibility is executed in a fair and transparent manner and that the figures concerning packaging materials put on the market and recycling rates are honest, reliable and verifiable.

For example, the measuring method for the recycling of waste is being modified: Until now, the weight of the waste material is measured when it arrives at the recycling facility (corrected for non-packaging materials and contaminants if these are above the permitted limits). In the new situation, the weight of recycling is measured when the waste is about to enter the recycling process. If this is not possible, an alternative option is to weigh the waste after sorting. In that case, however, it must be demonstrated that the waste is recycled and that the weight of any waste material that is removed after sorting yet prior to recycling is deducted from the total. It is expected that this can be demonstrated via studies. For plastics, for example, this may mean that a packaging may only be classified as recycled if it can be used to produce flakes or granulate.

The European Commission encourages the use of eco-modulation as an instrument with which to realise the higher recycling targets. This means that the costs charged by producer responsibility organisations depend on how recyclable packaging materials are. Packaging materials that are easily recyclable are more valuable to recyclers, which means that the revenues compensate the processing costs.

As part of the package, the European Commission has been tasked with revising the essential requirements for packaging materials. The revision process began in early 2019 and must be completed by the end of 2020.

At the moment, a producer/importer has various ways in which to demonstrate that his packaging meets the essential requirements, e.g. by being in accordance with the NEN standards. Once the essential requirements have been revised, producers and importers will have to take measures to demonstrate that their packaging fully complies with the revised requirements.

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  Single Use Plastics (SUP) Directive pertain to lost fishing gear and disposable plastic objects, including various types of packaging materials. The SUP Directive has come into effect on the third of July 2021, 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).

In the EU Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, ambitious targets are set for the collection and recycling of plastic packaging materials, including:

  • By 2030, all packaging materials must be reusable or recyclable.
  • By 2030, 50% of all plastic waste in Europe must be recycled.
  • By 2030, the EU's sorting and recycling capacity must be quadrupled, compared to 2015.


Rules and regulations in Member States

The twenty-eight EU Member States must amend their national legislation in accordance with the aforementioned European directives. Although this will result in a degree of uniformity throughout the Union, the strictness of the legislation differs per country. Implementing the collection systems and realising the recycling targets is handled entirely by the industry in some countries, such as Germany, Austria and Sweden. In France and Denmark, there are centralised (semi-) public organisations with a monopoly on direction and execution. Then there are countries, e.g. the Netherlands and Belgium, where the government and the industry share the responsibilities and where financing, collection and processing are managed and executed by different parties.

More information about the different systems for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and the associated Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) is available in the waste phase.

Situation in various countries

In the Netherlands, the national government, packaging industry and the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG) made agreements about the implementation of the Packaging Decree. These agreements are were set out in the Framework Agreement for Packaging 2013-2022. The packaging industry provide a robust and adequate financing system that includes a fund (the Packaging Waste Fund) made up of packaging waste management contributions that are levied based on a collective binding agreement, which is used to finance all activities required for the execution of the framework agreement. This fund is sufficient for these activities and has no limitation regarding the volume of material to be collected.

Single Use Plastics Directive
The Netherlands Institute for Sustainable Packaging has drawn has drawn up six decision trees, with which companies can assess whether their packaging is subject to the SUP legislation and whether the packaging complies with the requirements of the directive. The decision trees can be accessed and downloaded here. (Only available in Dutch.)

The new packaging law VerpackB entered into force on 1 January 2019. There are quotas for recycling percentages: by 1 January 2022, 90% of all plastic packaging materials has to be collected and 65% has to be recycled (into plastic products). A central supervisory body has been established that is to provide stricter monitoring to ensure all producers who put packaging materials on the market are registered. By law, all packaging materials must include a material indication number. The collection systems (the Duale system) must structure their participation costs in such a way that they:

  • Stimulate easily recyclable packaging materials;
  • Stimulate the use of recyclate in packaging materials, e.g. by making the collection and recycling of packaging materials that contain recyclate cheaper.

In December of 2018, the British government introduced its “New Waste Strategy.” The goal is to have the producers of packaging materials pay the costs of recycling, although the strategy also targets plastic pollution and food waste. The planned measures include:

  • Introducing a tax on single-use plastics that contain less than 30% recycled material;
  • Considering a ban on plastic products if suitable alternatives are available;
  • Legislation to force local governments to collect certain waste streams separately;
  • Introducing a deposit on bottles and cans;
  • Collecting organic waste from households;
  • Stimulating the recyclate market in the UK.


Voluntary agreements

In addition to complying with laws and regulations, there are businesses and countries who move ahead of legislation. Inspired by social concerns and outrage about the use and disposal of (especially plastic) packaging materials, businesses make voluntary promises to reduce the volume of packaging waste.

At both the national and international level, agreements are made between businesses and between businesses and governments. In The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, international businesses, governments and other organisations, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, have recorded their shared vision and targets to combat plastic pollution at the source. The New Plastics Economy initiative works together with UN Environment and affiliated businesses and retailers, including Carrefour, Colgate Palmolive, Danone, L'Oréal, MARS, Incorporated, Nestlé, SC Johnson, The Coca-Cola Company and Unilever. Together, these organisations are responsible for more than 20% of the global volume of plastic packaging materials that are put on the market.

The Circular Plastics Alliance was launched in December of 2018. The signatories of the Circular Plastic Alliance have pledged to use ten million tons of recycled plastic for the production of products and packaging materials by the year 2025. To achieve this target, a lot of steps will have to be taken. The participants will publish Design for Recycling guidelines and develop standards for recyclable products and products made with recycled material. There are investments in the sorting and recycling capacities of all European Member States. The use of recycled material will be researched and stimulated.

Plastic Pacts are agreements at the national level between governments, packaging industry, businesses in the plastic chain and environmental organisations, designed to reduce the volume of plastic waste. Such Pacts exist in the Netherlands, Great Britain and France. They generally contain targets for the years up to 2025 concerning the reduction of the use of plastic, increased recycling targets, the use of 100%-recyclable packaging materials and the prevention of litter.

Situation in various countries

To concretely substantiate the sustainability targets, branch organisations of packaging industry have drawn up Sector Innovation Plans. These are voluntary agreements that have been drawn up on behalf of the sector. These innovation plans contain concrete targets and measures to make packaging materials more sustainable, e.g. by reducing the volume of packaging materials and making plastic packaging materials fully recyclable and reusable. A Committee of Independent Experts from the Netherlands Institute for Sustainable Packaging (KIDV) assesses the innovation plans on various sustainability aspects and offers recommendations to help make the targets and measures more ambitious and concrete. The plans are valid for a period of four years, after which the results are assessed and published. In total, twenty-two branch organisations have collaborated with the KIDV to draw up a Sector Innovation Plan for Sustainable Packaging for the period 2019-2022.

In 2019, Germany adopted a new law with regard to packaging materials and packaging waste. One of the results of this is that a much larger volume of plastic recyclate will become available. To stimulate the use of this recyclate, the Ministry of the Environment (BMU) has launched a Rezyklat Initiative. These are voluntary agreements made by businesses to use plastic recyclate in their products and packaging materials. In exchange, the government supports research into the use of recyclate and has standards developed for products that are made with recyclate. The BMU has stated that it will draw up legal requirements if there are too few voluntary commitments.

The Courtauld Commitments are voluntary agreements made between the UK's largest supermarket chains and the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a non-profit environmental organisation. The agreements are designed to reduce the environmental impact of the sector, mainly by reducing food and packaging waste. The Courtauld Commitments were introduced in 2005 and initially focused only on primary (consumer) packaging materials and food waste. Currently, the fourth series of agreements is in effect, incorporating the entire product-packaging chain.



Policy and strategy


Businesses that develop effective and sustainable product-packaging combinations view sustainability as a strategic opportunity and as part of their value-creation process. It is important to integrate sustainable packaging into your organisation’s policies.

To do so, you must first of all know about the laws and regulations pertaining to the sustainability of packaging materials. Furthermore, it is good to be aware of the latest developments and opportunities concerning sustainable packaging solutions. This allows you to determine how your organisation can take advantage of these opportunities with suitable packaging strategies and/or new business models.

When developing new sustainable packaging materials, you must at the very least consider how it fits within the context of laws and regulations, organisational policies and sustainability, business models and future scenarios.

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