Extended producer responsibility systems in Europe are pushing packaging design modifications, according to several brand owners and an institute.
Extending producer responsibility (EPR) laws for packaging is becoming more common in states across the country. Maine and Oregon lawmakers enacted EPR legislation in 2021, and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis just signed House Bill 22-1355 into law, which establishes a statewide recycling system with the goal of increasing the state’s recycling rates for plastic, metal, glass, and paper. Several more EPR laws have also been submitted in other states.
While just three states have implemented packaging EPR laws to far, packaging EPR systems have operated in parts of Europe for more than 30 years. Multinational consumer brand corporations may give EPR success stories that U.S. brands can benefit from when more EPR bills are proposed in this country, thanks to Europe’s extensive experience of EPR systems for packaging.
In response to EPR, certain European consumer businesses have redesigned packaging to be reusable, recyclable, created with recycled content, and circular, according to the Boston-based Product Stewardship Institute (PSI). PSI, along with representatives from a European institute and several consumer brands, presented a webinar titled EPR Masterclass – EPR Packaging Redesign Success Stories, in which they shared a few examples of how brands have responded to EPR in Europe and what factors influenced them the most to change packaging design to make it more recyclable.
Designed specifically for recyclers
Kennisinstituut Duurzaam Verpakken (KIDV) strives to decrease the environmental effect of packaging throughout the whole packaging value chain. The institution collaborates with businesses to give information and resources to help them implement more environmentally friendly packaging.
Karen van de Stadt, KIDV’s sustainable packaging expert, mentioned during the webinar that the institute also provides EPR advice to businesses.
The following four incentives, according to Van de Stadt, motivate firms to create recyclable packaging in Europe:
business sustainability goals; plastic pacts; marketing and messaging about sustainable measures made; and
eco-modulation is a method of determining and structuring EPR fees based on environmental concerns and policy objectives in order to improve packaging recyclability and material efficiency.
Plastics pacts, such as the U.S. Plastics Pact, the European Plastics Pact, and the Plastics Pact Network, she added, set targets for firms to meet in order to hold them accountable for making long-term adjustments to their package designs. She went on to say that corporate sustainability objectives, as well as information about sustainable packaging design measures made by corporations, hold organizations accountable for sticking to their package design plans. Furthermore, she stated that some firms are influenced by eco-modulation and costs contained in EPR systems to modify their package designs; nonetheless, she stated that it appears to have less of an impact.
Taking the initiative
Three firms discussed their efforts in Europe in response to EPR and package design for recyclability.
PepsiCo’s head of environmental policy, Gabriella Gabelli, said, “EPR has been and will continue to be essential in coordinating and making recycling operational.”
PepsiCo, based in Purchase, New York, is working toward a goal of having all of its packaging be recyclable, compostable, biodegradable, or reusable by 2025. By 2030, the corporation wants to cut the quantity of virgin plastic used in its nonrenewable sources by half across its whole portfolio.
The Consumer Goods Forum’s “Guiding Principles for the Ecomodulation of EPR Fees for Packaging,” which was announced in February, was also supported and assisted with, according to Gabelli.
Although the firm has had success with enhancing the appearance of its beverage packaging, Gabelli noted that developing food packaging, such as for its Walkers Crisps brand, is a little more difficult. To achieve good product quality, she stated that the product line required “severe protection” against oxygen, moisture, and UV radiation. She stated that the firm is aiming to optimize the usage of polypropylene in the chip bag in order to produce higher-quality recyclate.
EPR programs are pushing brand owners to design packaging to boost recyclability and impact recycling infrastructure, according to Feliks Bezati, global circular packaging director of McLean, Virginia-based Mars Inc.
“We have a say because of the EPR fees we pay,” he explained. “When it comes to the recycling business, we have a lot of clout.” The more we utilize recycled materials, the higher the demand for them becomes. As a result, a handful of us [companies] have already pledged to utilize recycled materials.”
Mars has pledged to utilize 30 percent recyclable material in its packaging by 2025, according to Bezati. He also stated that the firm intends to change its portfolio in the future to include largely monomaterial packaging as a strategy to improve recyclability.
In addition, in reaction to plastic tariffs in some European nations, some corporations, such as Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, are migrating from virgin plastic to paper packaging or packaging that uses postconsumer resin.
“If there is a plastic tax, you may offset that by utilizing recycled materials or altogether altering your material,” said Jürgen Dornheim, Procter & Gamble’s head of corporate packaging innovation and sustainability. Procter & Gamble, for example, has switched from low-density polyethylene packaging to paper packaging for certain of its Always feminine hygiene products, he added.
He came to the conclusion that top-level brand managers should make adjustments to packaging design. “Change begins with decision-making,” Dornheim explained. “This is a decision that top management must make.”