An overhaul of the EU packaging and packaging waste directive (PPWD), the main EU-level instrument dealing with how food packaging is placed on the market and the requirements for its end-of-life, is due on 30 November.
Pointing out that as much as a third of the food currently produced goes to waste at a considerable economic and environmental cost, Charles Héaulmé, CEO of Finnish consumer packaging company Huhtamäki highlighted the crucial role that packaging plays in minimising this loss.
“The best solution to reduce food waste [is] to secure the shelf life, that’s to make sure that consumers get the quantity that they need, and not much more than what they need, therefore not getting into food waste – and that’s the role of packaging,” he explained at a recent event focused on the proposal, calling food safety and security packaging’s “number one societal role”.
While estimates vary, as much as 88 million tonnes of food waste are generated annually in the EU, representing 10% of the global greenhouse gas emissions associated with the food system at an estimated cost of €143 billion.
But a leaked draft of the proposal has prompted concerns from stakeholders that food security and wastage have been sidelined.
The latest version of the draft proposal, seen by EURACTIV, reads that some derogations can be permitted to the targets set out in the proposal in cases where food security is threatened.
“In evaluating the justification of such adjustment, the Commission shall assess requests […] and best available evidence regarding the related risks to human or animal health, to the security of food supply or to the environment,” the leaked proposal reads.
However, for Finnish liberal MEP Elsi Katainen, this falls far short of what is needed.
“Packaging is a crucial part of our single-market, making transport of goods possible and ensuring availability of food for European people,” she said, adding that she is “worried” by what she has seen so far of the proposal.
Highlighting the need to see the ‘full picture’ regarding packaging, she said that the EU “hasn’t been vocal enough on the global food crisis and food security, which are cornerstones of the societies”.
Meanwhile, from the farmers’ perspective, Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of the EU farmers’ association COPA-COGECA, warned that the EU ‘cannot afford’ a situation whereby reducing excess packaging adversely impacts either food security or safety.
“Food security and packaging is a crucial part of this discussion,” he said, noting that, due to the disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, food security is firmly ‘back on the agenda’.
“So we need to have sustainable packaging, a more efficient value chain – but we need to make sure that we also have long-term policies in place,” he said.
However, for Jean-Pierre Schweitzer from the green campaign group European Environmental Bureau (EEB), more can be done from both the food production side of the chain and the retailers to ensure that excess packaging is not required in the first place.
For example, this could include focusing on the production and consumption of food groups that require less packaging in the first place, such as vegetables, rather than high-risk products, such as meat.
Meanwhile, for Schweitzer, there should be more focus on how retailers market items to reduce both packaging and food waste.
“There are types of packaging which increase food waste,” he said, offering the example of multipacks which result in people buying more food than they need.
“Ultimately, [consumers] over-purchase and end up wasting food. So there are examples of food packaging which actually increase food waste,” he pointed out.
However, despite their key role in reducing packaging, Schweitzer criticised that the PPWD proposal does not include any reuse target for retailers.
“Despite the strong evidence we have on food waste [that] is actually about supermarket retail, we don’t have a target there,” he pointed out.