Consumer products and the proposed EU waste management laws

United Kingdom

In our LawNow of 14th July 2014 we referred to an EU Communication on 2nd July 2014 entitled “Towards a circular economy: A zero waste programme for Europe”. In our subsequent LawNow we provided an overview of how the waste laws proposed in July 2014 would impact on waste management generally in the EU. In this LawNow we highlight some of the key aspects from the perspective of consumer products sector.

Along with the above Communication the EU Commission published a draft Directive which if implemented would significantly amend several existing waste management Directives, some of which are directly relevant to consumer products, namely the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (1994), End of Life Vehicles Directive (2000), Waste Batteries and Accumulators Directive (2006) and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive 2012.

In a nutshell

This is not new but rather the emphasis is enhanced. If the legislative intentions are carried out the impact on consumer products comes from three directions:

  • Concentration on the design stage of the product
  • Landfill, and to a large extent energy recovery, at end of life is unlikely to be an option
  • Packaging

Landfill Diversion and Landfill Bans

To recap, the table below sets out the intentions with regard to the continued diversion of waste from landfill. The simple point being that at end of life consumer products, or all fractions therein, which are recyclable, will be expected to be recycled with very little ending up in landfill. This is something to bear in mind in the design of products.
Click here to view this table.

Packaging waste
Of course from a consumer products perspective an important consideration is how management of packaging waste is likely to change over the coming few years. The following are the proposed overall packaging waste targets, and targets for specific packaging waste streams.

Click here and here to view this table.

Other work in progress is underway in relation to plastic packaging. The above plastic waste target was settled by reference to what is currently thought to be technically feasible. However the EU Commission also states (recital 14) that it “may propose new levels of the targets for plastics for 2030 based on a review of progress made by Member States towards reaching [2025] targets, taking into account the evolution of the types of plastics placed on the market and the development of new recycling technologies”.
The EU Commission has recognised for some time that as packaging becomes more complex, particularly with the use of multi-material packaging, current recycling facilities can struggle to find solutions. Innovation is therefore required and this was set out as an action area in the 2013 EU Strategic Implementation Plan for the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials.

Food waste
Food waste has been identified as a particular consumer product about which the EU Commission has determined that particular attention is required. The following is a target in the draft Directive (but aspirational only) in respect of food waste.
Click here to view this table.

Product and packaging design

This has been a continued theme of the EU, namely that at the design stage more consideration needs to be given to the ability to discourage waste generation, and encourage the durability, repairability and recyclability of products and product parts and generally to reduce the environment impacts of products throughout its lifecycle. At this juncture the EU Commission is not proposing a specific target or measure but is indicating that this aspect may come up for further consideration in the not too distant future. In the meantime the proposed new provisions are (Articles 1(6) in respect of products (below) and Article 2(3) in respect of packaging (with the language being virtually the same)):

Clickhere to view this table.

Again the EU Commission has held the view for several years that failure to reuse or recycle materials at the end of life of a product has potentially significant commercial impacts, for instance on the competitiveness of the EU and security of supply of raw materials (with emphasis on critical raw materials and materials in electronic devices and in green technologies notably in the energy, chemical and automotive sectors). This too has generated action areas in the 2013 strategic plan on raw materials (referred to above).

Producer responsibility and market barriers

The EU Commission is likely to examine more closely the performance and effectiveness of producer responsibility and extended producer responsibility schemes across the EU and market barriers (including the extent to which existing extended producer responsibility compliance schemes may operate as market barriers) to, for instance, more innovation in the reuse and recycling subsectors of the waste management sector and impediments to the greater uptake of recyclate as a substitute for virgin materials in the manufacture of new products.


It seems to us to be reasonably clear how the EU Commission intends the waste management sector to develop over the next 10 - 15 years. The impacts on consumer products is most likely to be felt in terms of design of the products and packaging and in ensuring reuse or recycling of associated packaging and the end of life products. There is also plenty of work in progress to look forward to including in respect of particular waste streams (for instance food and plastics), and in respect of addressing barriers (including market barriers) to greater uptake of reuse and recyclate.