Countries around the world have enacted packaging laws and continue to adopt new regulations. These laws ensure consumer safety, reduce waste, and help meet environmental goals. As a result, manufacturers must find new packaging solutions that reduce the size of packaging and use eco-friendly materials.
Maintaining regulatory compliance requires staying abreast of new packaging legislation and understanding its effect on your business. But there is good news. Modernizing your packaging by adopting new designs and eco-friendly materials, such as molded fiber, can boost your brand’s sustainability profile.
The European Union
The European Union was the first governmental body to adopt significant regulations aimed at packaging waste. Its 1985 directive set rules for liquid containers. The 1994 Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) greatly expanded the scope of EU rules on packaging. It set goals for the recovery and cycling of packaging waste. The PPWD covers all packaging for products placed on the EU market. It also establishes the essential requirements of packaging, including:
- rules on the use of recycled packaging materials
- rules for minimizing packaging volume and weight
- rules on designing packaging to allow for reuse or recovery through material recycling, energy recovery, composting, or biodegradation
The PPWD has been amended several times, most recently in 2018.
To meet new sustainability challenges, the European Commission released its plan for a substantial revision of the PPWD in June 2020. It will issue legislative proposals later this year. The new legislation will:
- add clearer, easier-to-enforce laws that require packaging to be recycled to a high quality and in a cost-effective manner
- address excessive packaging
- prohibit “light-weighting” packaging, which often results in reduced recyclability.
The EU has also adopted a circular economy action plan to lower the EU’s energy consumption and carbon footprint. It seeks to:
- reduce packaging waste
- sets a goal of recycling 70% of packaging waste and 85% of paper and cardboard by 2030
The EU has also adopted a “plastic tax” that went into effect on January 1, 2021. This measure requires each EU member to pay a contribution to the EU budget based on the weight of nonrecycled plastic it generates. To fund this new expense, each nation may place a tax on plastic product packaging. It’s likely that EU members will create different approaches to the plastic tax. For manufacturers and retailers, this will complicate compliance and increase costs for using plastic packaging.
Other European countries
Some non-EU countries have packaging regulations similar to those in the EU. For example:
- Norway has implemented the EU’s PPWD directives through an agreement between its trade and industry associations and the EU. These agreements cover plastics, beverage cartons, cardboard, glass, and metal.
- Sweden requires that all packaging be compatible with the country’s existing collection and recovery system.
The United Kingdom left the EU on January 31, 2020. The environmental and packaging waste laws it enacted while a member of the EU will likely remain in effect for the time being. They could be amended in the future as the government reassesses its EU-era laws. The UK also has plans to enact its own circular economy package, modeled on the EU’s version. This effort will affect packaging regulations.
The United States does not have an all-encompassing statute that regulates packaging. But that may change soon. In 2020, federal legislators proposed legislation aimed at reducing plastic waste. This act would include an extended producer responsibility provision requiring businesses to either take back packaging discards or pay for them to be recycled. Nearly 30 countries worldwide have extended producer responsibility laws. This would be the first one in the U.S
Various federal and state laws provide rules for fair labeling of products and prohibit the use of certain hazardous or toxic materials in packaging. Some states have enacted legislation to ensure consumer safety and promote environmental sustainability:
- California’s Rigid Plastic Packaging Container law provides strict regulations aimed at reducing the amount of plastics in the state’s landfills. Its legislators have also been working to enact legislation to address the state’s circular economy and plastic pollution.
- In 2019, Maine and Maryland became the first states to ban polystyrene foam containers.
China banned the import of plastics for recycling in 2017, and in December 2020, its Ministry of Commerce established a new system for retailers to report their plastic consumption as part of a plan to reduce waste and the use of single-use plastics. These new directives will have an impact on global manufacturers, retailers, and packaging suppliers.
Canada has adopted an industry-driven approach to reducing packaging waste. The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment has closely worked with retailers, brand owners, and the packaging industry. They have developed initiatives to reduce the amount of packaging that ends up in landfills. Canada is also one of several countries worldwide that have targeted single-use plastics.
Challenges and opportunities
Businesses that sell their goods in multiple countries face a wide range of regulatory complexities. One of these complications is complying with a vast array of different packaging laws. Some packaging content and labeling regulations have been in force for decades. But, as we have seen, legislatures in many countries are now keenly focused on reducing packaging waste. They are determined to ensure that packaging can be recycled or reused — or is biodegradable.
The types of packaging compliance regulations brands must address include:
- extended producer responsibility legislation
- material restrictions
- materials reporting (quantity of different packaging materials, such as plastics or paper, used)
- environmental packaging design requirements
- environmental labeling
These packaging laws — along with broader, stricter regulations on the horizon — make it increasingly challenging for brands to sell their products in different markets. Compliance requires that brands find fresh approaches to product and packaging designs. They must also adopt eco-friendly materials in both their product packaging and shipping packaging.
Making this transition to new packaging can be eased by working with a knowledgeable packaging company that can provide integrated packaging solutions. In addition to compliance expertise, some companies already have all the necessary environmental certifications that may be required. These include:
- FSC Standard for Chain of Custody Certification
- G7 Certified Facilities and Staff
- Environmental Management System
- IECQ Certified
These types of certifications provide businesses and customers assurance that the materials and manufacturing processes are actually environmentally friendly.
Taking the Next Step
Businesses that have been hesitant to move away from plastics due to costs may need to reevaluate. The costs for using plastic may end up being higher as new plastics regulations go into effect globally,
Transitioning to new packaging designs and materials isn’t just about compliance. It provides brands exciting new opportunities to strengthen their eco-friendly profile and to satisfy rising consumer expectations about sustainable packaging. It also gives businesses a chance to work with governments and environmental organizations to create a greener future for everyone.