Finland Faces Costs of Hundreds of Millions in EU Agreement to Reduce Packaging

Finland Faces Costs of Hundreds of Millions in EU Agreement to Reduce Packaging

There’s a potential for two parallel bottle return systems in Finland in the future, according to Satumaija Levón, the responsibility director of the Finnish Food Industry Association.

The European Parliament and the Council of Member States have come to a preliminary agreement on the details of the packaging waste regulation. This regulation is intended to reduce the generation of packaging waste, set binding reuse targets, and limit certain types of single-use packaging.

This regulation has significant implications for the packaging industry and the food industry, which is a major user of packaging. The Parliament and the Council have agreed that packaging must be reduced by five percent by 2030, ten percent by 2035, and fifteen percent by 2040.

Parliament’s chief negotiator, Frédérique Ries, stated, “We call on all industries, EU countries, and consumers to participate in the fight against overpackaging”. Certain types of single-use packaging will be completely banned from 2030. These include packages of fresh fruits and vegetables, individually packaged bags of spices and sugar, and small hygiene packages, like hotels’ mini-sized shampoo bottles.

The Finnish food industry believes that the new legislation creates uncertainty and necessitates new investment requirements. Satumaija Levón is concerned that a significant system-level change has been implemented hastily and without adequate impact assessment.

According to Levón, “No food industry product can be placed on the market without packaging. A binding reduction in the amount of packaging waste will cause significant changes in how food is packaged in the future. It also always means that changes must be made to the production lines.”

The negotiators agreed that by 2030, the EU will set a reuse target of at least ten percent for beverage packaging. This target, however, will not apply to milk, wine, or spirits. Member states can grant a five-year exemption from compliance.

Levón explains that this will require entirely new packaging for juices and other drinks that are currently packaged in liquid cartons. According to the agreement reached by negotiators, final distributors of drinks and take-away food must offer consumers the opportunity to bring their own container with them for shopping. Take-away distributors must aim to offer ten percent of products in reusable packaging by 2030.

The outcome of the trilogy negotiations that emerged on Monday evening still requires final approval from the Council of Member States and the European Parliament before it can enter into force.

The packaging waste regulation has raised concerns about whether the Finnish bottle return system will be completely renewed. The Commission’s original idea was that the packaging would circulate from consumers back to industry for refilling.

In Finland, pawned beverage packaging circulates as a raw material. The packages are flattened or crushed, and their raw material is used as new packaging or other products.

Levón interprets the resulting agreement as preserving the Finnish bottle return system. The negotiators have agreed that in countries where the collection rate of plastic bottles and metal beverage cans is over 90 percent, the current system should remain in use.

However, alongside that is the obligation that at least 10 percent of drinks should be offered in reusable packaging. The big concern now is that we would have two parallel systems,” says Levón.

Reusable packaging does not necessarily fit into Finland’s current return system and would require a separate sorting and logistics system. According to Levón, the costs of complying with EU legislation for the Finnish food industry will be hundreds of millions of euros.

ASPF, an international advocacy organization for food producers, believes that single-use plastic packaging for fresh fruits and vegetables should continue to be allowed in the interest of public health. They also believe that functional labels should be exempted from mandatory compostability requirements to ensure the traceability of foodstuffs.

ASPF also believes that longer transition periods should apply to packaging recyclability requirements. Regional Director of the International Fresh Food Association IFPA, Anouk Sijmonsma, says it is unbelievable that the packaging waste regulation has progressed this far without considering the needs of fresh food. In his opinion, fresh food is a basic need.

“This is about people’s health, the safety of the food we eat, and the preservation of supply chains. The stakes couldn’t be higher,” Sijmonsma said.

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