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Staying ahead of the game: understanding European packaging legislation for a sustainable future
03 May 2023

Staying ahead of the game: understanding European packaging legislation for a sustainable future

3 minute read
Circular Economy
Nicole Schlemmer Managing consultant, circular economy

Earlier this year, Türkiye and Syria were hit by a series of devastating earthquakes, leaving millions of people in need of urgent humanitarian support.

More than 214,000 buildings. including schools, hospitals, homes. were destroyed or damaged. All in all, this natural disaster affected over 18 million people, many in need of shelter, food and medical aid. Access to safe water and sanitation is also a major concern.

This is a terrible humanitarian crisis and there continues to be a huge demand for the distribution of essential supplies relating to health and sanitation, and including blankets, clothing, and the provision of safe spaces. The needs are enormous, and the challenges are many and complex.

What did South Pole do to help?

South Pole has always acted today for a better tomorrow and our Humanitarian Relief Policy extends this principle to natural disasters like the Türkiye and Syria earthquakes. (On the basis of this policy South Pole also provided support to those affected by the war in Ukraine in 2022). With the help of our mighty employees, South Pole led the charge to concentrate and amplify donations and spread the word about the destructive events that had happened in Türkiye and Syria.

Collectively South Pole employees managed to raise over €12,000 for the cause, and South Pole matched these contributions by €10,000.

South Pole's €10,000 contribution was split equally between three charities, with around €3,333 being donated to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), Ahbap Association (AHBAP) and AKUT Search and Rescue Association (AKUT). This money went directly towards the achievement of the following:

Single-Use Plastics Directive

The EU Single-Use Plastics Directive is one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation aimed at reducing plastic waste. Adopted in 2019, the Directive targets specific single-use plastic products, such as straws, cutlery, plates and cotton buds, and calls for their reduction and eventual phase-out. It also requires member states to ensure that these products are either collected separately or made using sustainable materials. In addition, the Directive mandates that at least 90% of plastic bottles be collected for recycling by 2025. To comply with this legislation, companies need to replace banned single-use plastic products with sustainable alternatives and invest in recycling programmes.

The Single-Use Plastics Directive came into force on 3 July 2021 which means that EU member states had until this date to transpose the Directive's provisions into their national laws and implement them.

Circular Economy Action Plan

In addition to the Single-Use Plastics Directive, the EU's Circular Economy Action Plan aims to create a circular economy in which waste is reduced and resources are reused. The plan includes several measures that aim to reduce plastic waste, such as improving the collection and recycling of plastic packaging and promoting the use of biodegradable plastics. It also calls for the development of a monitoring system to track the use of plastic packaging and assess the effectiveness of existing measures.

The Circular Economy Action Plan does not have a specific deadline for completion. Instead, the plan sets out a long-term vision for a more sustainable and circular economy in the EU, with various milestones and targets to be achieved by 2030 and beyond.

The EU’s Plastic Tax (part of the EU’s Green Deal)

Implemented on 1 January 2021, the EU Plastic Tax, targeted at EU member states and feeding into the EU budget, aims to reduce the amount of plastic pollution and increase the recycling of plastic packaging by imposing a fee on the production and importation of plastic packaging that does not meet minimum recycling requirements. This incentivises producers and consumers to shift towards more sustainable and recyclable packaging options.

The tax contribution per EU member state is calculated at a standard rate of EUR 0.80 per kilogram (kg) of non-recycled plastic packaging waste. Currently, member states either pay the contribution from their own national budget, regardless of whether they have set up a national system to collect the tax, or they design their own national tax legislation (i.e. “plastic tax”) and set up a system to collect this by way of a levy on specific taxpayers. Some examples of national taxes being introduced are listed below, with more countries expected to follow:


Italy has introduced a plastic tax on the consumption of manufactured single-use plastic products and semi-finished plastic products from which non-reusable plastic packaging will be produced. Exemptions include plastic material and certain medical devices contained in single-use products derived from recycling processes. As of 1 January 2023, this tax is paid by the manufacturer or importer at EUR 0.45 per kg of plastic or EUR 450 per tonne (t).


Spain has also introduced a tax on non-reusable plastic packaging products. This tax applies not only to product manufacturers in Spain, but to every company that buys plastic packaged products or empty plastic packaging in-country or imports these materials into Spain. Exemptions include recycled plastic and non-reusable plastic packaging used for the protection, distribution and presentation of livestock and agricultural or medical products. As of January 2023, this tax is borne by the manufacturer or importer at a cost of EUR 0.45 per kg or EUR 450 per t.

United Kingdom

The tax system in the United Kingdom (UK) comes into action when a plastic packaging component is either produced in or imported into the UK. However, this taxation only concerns chargeable plastic packaging components, often meaning that the proportion of recycled plastic content in the finished component, when measured by weight, is less than 30% of the total amount of plastic in the component. As of 1 April 2022, this tax is borne by the manufacturer or importer in the UK at GBP 200 per t of chargeable plastic packaging components.

European Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive

The European Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, also known as the 94/62/EC Directive, is a longstanding piece of packaging legislation. Introduced in 1994, the Directive aims to reduce the amount of packaging waste produced in Europe by requiring businesses to reduce the environmental impact of packaging and promote the reuse and recycling of packaging waste. The Directive is currently being reviewed following the circular economy action plan and may become regulation in the future.

Under the Directive, businesses must ensure that their packaging is recyclable and comes labelled with information on how to recycle it. Businesses must also report their annual packaging waste data to the relevant national authority.

Under the Directive, companies must comply with the following provisions:

  • Reduce packaging waste: companies must minimise the amount of packaging they produce while still ensuring that products are adequately protected.
  • Recycling and recovery targets: companies must meet recycling and recovery targets set by the Directive. These targets vary depending on the material used for packaging.
  • Packaging markings: companies must ensure that packaging is clearly marked with information about its composition, weight and the manufacturer's name and address.
  • Extended producer responsibility: companies must take responsibility for their packaging waste by financing its collection and recycling.
  • Notification and reporting: companies must notify the national authorities about their activities and report on their compliance with the Directive.
  • Eco-design: companies must design packaging in an environmentally friendly way. This includes using recyclable materials and minimising the amount of packaging.
  • Monitoring and reporting: companies must monitor and regularly report on their progress towards meeting the targets set by the Directive.

To comply with this legislation, companies need to assess the amount of packaging waste they generate and implement strategies to reduce waste and promote recycling.

National Plastic Packaging Legislation

In addition to or ahead of EU-wide legislation, several European countries have enacted their own plastic packaging legislation. For example, France has banned single-use plastic cutlery and plates, while Germany has implemented a national deposit scheme for plastic bottles (the Pfand system). In the UK, the government has committed to banning the sale of single-use plastic items such as straws, stirrers and cotton buds by April 2023.

Stay ahead of the curve and act now

Plastic and packaging pollution is a major environmental challenge that requires collective action from governments, businesses and consumers. By enacting comprehensive plastic packaging legislation, Europe is taking a leading role in addressing this problem and setting an example for other regions around the world. While there is still much work to be done, the EU's efforts demonstrate a commitment to creating a more sustainable future and reducing the environmental impact of plastic waste.

Looking ahead, the EU is expected to continue its efforts to reduce plastic and packaging waste and increase the circularity of products put into the market. It will achieve this by leveraging its influence over EU member states, encouraging them to introduce national taxation and educate their populations about plastic waste, and by rolling out its own legislation.

To ensure that your business is compliant with European packaging legislation, it is vital that you stay up to date with the latest developments and requirements. This can involve monitoring regulatory changes, attending industry events and conferences, and working with experts who provide guidance and support. By being aware of the requirements, taking steps to reduce the environmental impact of your packaging and using only safe and compliant materials, you can help to protect your business and the environment.

Nicole Schlemmer - Managing consultant, circular economy
Want to find out more? Reach out for guidance on packaging and plastics in Europe today.
Nicole Schlemmer - Managing consultant, circular economy
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