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Crunch time for packaging rules, home appliance integrity endangered

Latest News 09 Jan 2024
With over 1 billion small and large household products sold every year, Europe is a major household appliance industry market. Thousands of refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers and ovens leave EU factories and enter the homes of millions of consumers everyday, which makes them of key importance as Europe sprints to close the deal on new packaging rules. However, the draft legislation largely overlooks the sector, with a concrete risk for household appliance products to become collateral damage. 

Inter-institutional negotiations on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) are foreseen to start on 10 January. In this first round, lawmakers will define key priorities for new rules and will agree on waste reduction targets and how to achieve them through measures such as restrictions on packaging, recycling targets and requirements for reuse, and mandatory deposit-return schemes. 

Under the Commission’s proposal, 90% of packaging used for large household appliances will have to be made available in reusable transport packaging by 2030, when they are placed on the EU market for the first time. The mandate is contained in Article 26.1 of the draft regulation, which lays down reuse targets for packaging used in the transport of large household appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, tumble dryers, electric fans or air conditioners. The provision is a significant source of concern for the sector where packaging plays both a functional and protective role, to ensure the product is not damaged during transport.

With its vote on 22 November, the European Parliament sent a strong signal recognising the protective and exceptional nature of fragile, heavy large home appliance packaging and supporting that a life cycle assessment is run to check if reuse is the most sustainable option. On the contrary, Member States have significantly overlooked the case for home appliances and the consequences reusable packaging would bring about for consumers and the environment. 

Differently from other product categories, the proposed targets for household appliances are not based on any viable assessment, leaving a question mark on the improved sustainability promised by reusable solutions. The risks? Implementing a solution that proves being less sustainable than the one currently in place and compromise the integrity of products at the time of delivery to consumers. 

Reuse systems have already been explored in the past for large home appliances, but that comes with environmental trade offs as it involves higher material use to fill in the empty spaces of a standardised box and increased energy and water use - especially since containers may have to travel long distances to be restored by the original company. Packaging commuting alone would result in +10 to 40% CO2 emissions, according to a study published by McKinsey. This makes it very difficult to make an environmental case for reuse. What is more, the use of a standardised package not matching the characteristics of each product model, would increase chances of product damage during transport. 

In line with the Parliament’s position, a thorough environmental and economic impact assessment is required to check the feasibility and true sustainability advantages of reuse for large home appliances. 

Paolo Falcioni, APPLiA Director General
We all recognise that change is needed if we are to combat the packaging waste crisis. However, any solution should be tested against real-life circumstances to ensure it effectively delivers on sustainability goals, without compromising product and consumer safety.
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