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EU’s reusable packaging to jeopardise the integrity of household products

Latest News 16 Nov 2023

With the EP Plenary set to cast its vote on Tuesday, we are at the final stages of the EU’s packaging waste law introducing a reuse target of 90% for large home appliances. 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. Several use-case scenarios show the unsustainability of this measure for household products packaging, which would increase emissions, normalise over-packaging and compromise the safety of products. But with only a few days left until the final deal, the issue remains unsolved.

Particularly, industry experts warned of “damage risk” of products during manufacturing, storage and transport in absence of a tailored packaging solution for each appliance model. Product packaging is subject to truck vibrations, loading and unloading, dropping and climate shocks among others for which each appliance gets tested in the factory and based on which, protection levels, material type and amounts of packaging are determined. 

Reuse systems have already been trialled in the past, 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. 

If targets are to be set, a thorough environmental and economic impact assessment is required to check its true sustainability advantages, compared to single-use solutions. Until then, large home appliances should be exempted from mandatory reuse targets. 

New packaging rules provide an opportunity to contain increasing amounts of packaging waste and open up a new scenario where single use and reuse coexist, but challenges and limitations must be recognised to ensure and scale its success. 

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