Unpacking the EU Packaging Waste Directive

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Improving the sustainability of packaging has become an increasingly important topic for logistics managers in recent years as civil, national, and international governing bodies have moved to address the problems caused by excessive packaging materials, especially plastic waste. Currently, the UNEP is negotiating an international plastics treaty, with negotiations set to be finalized by the end of 2024.

Within the EU, steps are also being taken to address the challenge of packaging waste which have resulted in a directive with progressive targets that all packaging producers must meet. Read on to learn more about the EU Packaging Directive, specific targets that have been set, and how packaging automation can play a significant role in helping businesses achieve the requirements of the directive before enforcement of the new rules begins.

What is the EU Packaging Directive?

The European Commission is the government body of the European Union tasked with managing the finances of the Union, as well as proposing and implementing new laws and driving the overall strategy of the EU. This includes coordinating on environmental policy. Recently, the EU Commission has put forward a revision of their Packaging Directive designed to reduce packaging waste, minimize the volume of packaging used, encourage use of recycled and recyclable materials, and over time, minimize the use of plastic packaging.

  • The directive is formally known as Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste and is being updated, with the expectation that the new rules will be enacted in 2024.
  • This includes ensuring that the empty space ratio in transport packaging is a maximum of 50%, reducing the amount of void allowed in all packaging, and with it, the void fill materials used.
  • The deadline set for compliance with these directives is in 2030, meaning that businesses have a runway towards compliance that will require them to start managing their transition strategies now.

When does it take effect?

Some of the key dates for the EU Packaging Directive include:

  • By the end of 2024, EU countries should ensure that producer responsibility schemes* are established for all packaging.
  • By 31 December 2025, at least 65% by weight of all packaging waste must be recycled.
  • By 31 December 2030, at least 70% by weight of all packaging waste must be recycled.

What level of void is present in traditional e-commerce packaging?

In traditional packing operations for e-commerce using fixed box sizes, the average void level is between 60% and 80%, far exceeding the maximum specified in the draft regulation. Currently, many packing operations attempt to achieve efficiencies by using a fixed box size for transport packaging, and voids are filled in a variety of ways, including plastic air pillows, plastic air bubbles, paper, and other materials. To comply with the EU directive, businesses that have not begun to think about upgrading their packaging will need to evaluate their current approach and address the inefficiencies leading to excessive voids. They can manage this process by moving from a less efficient approach towards a strategy based on right-sized packaging.

How automation supports right-sized packaging.

Right-sized packaging is key to optimizing parcel sizes to match their contents, minimizing voids within the box. Usage of the right type of packaging material and equipment enables regulatory compliance and more sustainable operations.

At Ranpak, we have been focused on delivering environmentally sustainable, paper-based protective packaging solutions for e-commerce and industrial logistics, which already meets many of the proposed requirements. In addition, our end-of-line (EOL) automated solutions are designed to package items in cartons with the least possible volume within packaging for transport, while still protecting the products being shipped. This includes transport packaging used to deliver “products to the final consumer as part of online sales or through other means of distance selling,” as stated in the draft of the EU Packaging Directive.

In order to define the optimal amount and size of boxes, Ranpak provides a consulting service based on our unique Precube’it!™ software. By analyzing historical orders, the system can calculate the average fill rate and advise on the most optimal box sizes including predicted fill rate. These automated solutions are successfully installed in a number of packing operations around the globe. They have delivered substantial benefits, including:

  • Processing more boxes per hour with fewer employees,
  • Less waste,
  • Less volume that translates to more boxes per pallet and fewer trucks on the road,
  • Improved sustainability, and
  • Advance preparation for compliance with upcoming regulations.

Ongoing data collection increases support for customers by using data science and vision technology for continuous improvement and innovation. This includes utilizing available data about actual box sizes from Cut’it! EVO and front-end vision technology to analyze actual orders processed, providing real-time actionable data that helps validate and optimize the operation.

How to take action to meet the EU Packaging Directive Requirements.

Integrating automated solutions into the packing line can help when scaling a right-sized packaging strategy. Solutions that already support packing operations in achieving the new EU targets by adapting the size of the parcel to its contents include:

  • The Cut’it!™ EVO automated in-line packing machine reduces voids in parcels before shipping, cutting down on shipping costs. It automatically shortens cartons to match their highest point of filling, and then glues a lid securely in place.
  • The ergonomic Flap’it!™ system is a highly effective solution that automates the packing of small products. E-commerce and logistics operations can benefit from outstanding product protection when shipping products such as books, video games, DVDs, spare-parts, and small electronics. Flap’it!-produced boxes significantly reduce damage during transport and ensure fewer product returns, thanks to integrated cushioning bumpers at box corners.

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