Resource Use

REUSE conference talks reuse in light of Single-Use Plastics Directive

The eighth European REUSE Conference, a day of talks and discussions from industry figures, surrounding the topic of reusable packaging and its place within the European Union (EU), took place digitally yesterday (6 July).

This comes days after the implementation of the single-use plastic ban across the union.

EU flagsThe event began with several keynote speeches, firstly from Barbara Metz, Deputy Executive Director at German environmental association, Deutsche Umwelthilfe.

She noted the sharp increase in plastic packaging over the past year and called for a ‘paradigm shift towards reusable solutions across Europe’.

Deputy Director-General, Directorate General for the Environment (European Commission), Joana Drake then outlined the importance of reusable packaging within the context of the new Circular Economy Action Plan.

She suggested that the circular economy is at the heart of Europe’s ambition and that we need ‘a transformative change in the way we do business and the way we consume.’

She presented a target for Europe to double its circular resource use in the next decade, which will start with a ‘sustainable product policy framework’ to be rolled out in the next few weeks.

In order for this target to be met, however, waste legislation needs to be brought in line with the circular economy in order to scale up efforts, Drake stated.

For example, EU member states will be obliged to report to the European Commission (EC) on reusable packaging, as well as being encouraged to implement Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) and rewarded with economic incentives in accordance with reuse figures.

The objective is ‘to better enforce the waste hierarchy’, Drake stated, with the ultimate goal of all packaging within the EU to be reusable or recyclable by 2030.

This can only be achieved with the promotion of DRS’s throughout the EU by The European Green Deal, Drake suggested, as ‘packaging is only reusable when it is part of a reuse system that exists with a return scheme.’

Successful European reuse systems

The first came from Leonore Gewessler, the Austrian Federal Minister for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology.

She outlined Austria’s commitment to supporting a large-scale comeback to refillables, achieved through setting legal obligations to offer refillables in food retail stores, presenting manufactures with a transitional period, and implementing state aid to offer support to the beverage industry who would otherwise be financially disadvantaged.

The second came from Sven Giegold, Member of the European Parliament, Greens/EFA, who called for a binding prioritisation of reuse in Europe.

He stated: "The revision of the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive offers an opportunity to make reusable packaging systems mandatory across Europe and to develop them further.”

“So far, too much emphasis has been placed on recycling instead of actually avoiding waste and reusing packaging.”

“It is not enough to ban single-use plastic products if reusable alternatives are not available.”

“Prevention and reusability must be promoted through binding targets and focussed economic support of reuse systems.”

“A change from a linear packaging industry towards circular reuse systems can also become a job engine for Europe.”

“In Germany alone, 145,000 people are employed in the reusable beverage packaging sector.”

Developments and visions for reuse within Europe

Tobias Bielenstein from the Cooperative of German Mineral Water Companies (GDB) outlined what makes a good reuse system, citing the refillable bottle scheme implemented by GDB in Germany.

He described the necessity of standardisation of packaging for such schemes to work, citing the glass pool system he works within as a successful framework, as it can be used by many companies in the market.

Nuša Urbancic, of Changing Markets Foundation, stressed that corporations must commit to reuse with action rather than talk.

She stated that she wanted to see an end to endless piloting – whilst ‘56 per cent of businesses are doing reuse trials’, these are only small-scale and for certain products, when what Europe really needs is ‘scalable solutions’.

She also stressed that companies need ‘real time bound-commitments’, in order to prevent externalising costs through using single-use packaging.

Nathan Dufour, of Zero Waste Europe, concurred, stressing that Europe needs a ‘system change perspective’.

Dufour stated: “Reuse businesses are important change actors and formidable optimisers of the use of resources and materials - they promote long term changes in habits.”

He followed: “Reuse businesses across europe have become key circularity ambassadors, yet, they do all this in a still economically and legally hostile environment, with some significant barriers.”

To remedy this he called for a review of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD), Sustainable Products Initiative, and the legislation surrounding Food Contact Materials (FCM), amongst economic incentives, financial support and voluntary commitments in the absence of a ‘conducive legal framework’.

Best practice for reusable packaging

The conference concluded with a summarisation of what was deemed most essential in order for the EU to achieve its reuse targets.

It was underscored that, in order to transition to a circular economy, the EU and its member states must adopt measures to consistently promote reusable packaging systems.

In order for reuse systems to become established throughout Europe, policy-makers need to introduce binding waste reduction and reuse targets.

In light of the new European bans on certain single-use plastic products that came into force on 3 July, the EU needs to support environmentally-friendly reusable solutions with binding legislation in order to prevent a shift towards alternative single-use materials.