Appliance packaging reuse mandate faces stiff opposition from manufacturers, disposable packaging providers
Some days, I feel like I’ve been teleported back to the 1980s. Same arguments, different century. Many readers will have heard similar concerns: unproven approach, complex, requiring training, won’t work, the range of products will not fit in standard-sized containers, don’t buy that reverse logistics is less environmentally impactful. And more.
Such objections have arisen in the wake of the European Commission’s proposed legislation on packaging waste. It stipulates that by 2030, nearly all large domestic appliances must be shipped using reusable packaging, a plan met with widespread skepticism from supply chain stakeholders.
The draft Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) of the EU, proposed in November of the previous year, is designed to reduce superfluous packaging and promote recycling and reuse. The proposed regulation is currently under review by the European Parliament and EU member states prior to its final adoption.
According to the Commission’s proposal, when large household appliances are first introduced to the EU market, 90% of the packaging should be reusable transport packaging by 2030. This requirement is outlined in Article 26.1 of the proposed regulation, which sets reuse goals for packaging employed for transporting large home appliances, such as refrigerators, washing machines, tumble dryers, electric fans, and air conditioners.
The appliance sector has raised strong concerns and single-use packaging providers, notes a recent article by EURACTIV. We highlight some of the main arguments below.
Packaging might get damaged or contaminated; reverse logistics might be impractical
Paolo Falcioni, the Director General of APPLiA, a trade association representing Europe’s home appliance industry, expresses significant concerns. APPLiA explains that packaging for large household appliances is designed to be functional and protective to avoid any physical damage or moisture-related harm on the journey from the manufacturer to the retailer and, finally, the consumer.
Commonly used packaging materials include pallets, plastic straps, cardboard boxes, and pallet wrappings. However, according to APPLiA, some of these materials cannot be reused due to technical limitations.
For instance, it notes that pallet wrapping might become so damaged or contaminated with materials that it cannot be sufficiently cleaned, making it unfit for future use. In other cases, even though it might be technically possible to reuse the packaging, the associated costs and complexities of returning it to the manufacturer could make it impractical. These comments were shared with EURACTIV via email.
Appliance packaging reuse: no evidence of better results, overpackaging concerns, reliance on non-existent reverse logistics systems
FEFCO, the European Federation of Corrugated Board Manufacturers, believes the proposed regulation could create significant challenges for the logistics and retail sector, which presently relies on single-use corrugated cardboard boxes for product protection.
According to Eleni Despotou, the Director General at FEFCO, the impact would be widespread across the retail sector.
Regarding large household appliances, FEFCO points out that there’s scant evidence to suggest that current reusable packaging alternatives, primarily plastic crates, could be sufficiently expanded to accommodate the requirements of the entire EU market.
Moreover, these plastic crates would need to conform to standardized dimensions, which could lead to overpackaging for products that don’t comfortably fit into the available crates, argues FEFCO.
The organization further suggests that the current system, using corrugated packaging, is nearly a closed-loop application with high recycling rates, especially in transport packaging. It doesn’t believe there’s a compelling argument for change.
FEFCO also contends that replacing the existing circular system with non-existent reuse systems doesn’t necessarily promise superior environmental and economic impacts. These insights were shared with EURACTIV in email correspondence.
Reusable wraps won’t be effective
PlasticsEurope, an industry association, shares similar concerns. With regard to the 90% reuse goal for white goods, the association doubts whether the environmental advantages are wholly evident, as pointed out by David Carroll, the Director of External Affairs at PlasticsEurope.
Carroll also raises concerns about pallet wrappings – the flexible plastic used around transport pallets. According to him, these wrappings are often used for safety purposes. They are recyclable but not reusable, and viable reusable pallet wrapper alternatives that can perform the same function are not apparent.
Carroll further questions the environmental benefits of establishing a return system for reusable plastic packaging. Some uncertainties persist for the industry, such as how often the packaging would be reused, the carbon footprint associated with cleaning and returning empty plastic boxes, and the implications for reverse logistics, among other considerations.
European Commission, reusable packaging insiders remain resolute
Despite the various critiques, the Commission is optimistic that the 90% target for the reusable packaging of white goods can be achieved. In response to inquiries from EURACTIV regarding potential solutions, the Commission clarified that the proposed reuse and refill targets pertain to transport packaging, focusing on activities where specific packaging solutions already exist and can be coordinated with existing reverse logistics upon delivery.
When questioned about the expense of implementing this measure, the EU executive pointed to a foundational study backing the PPWR proposal. The Commission explained that this study includes thorough assumptions and a methodology used to estimate the alteration in mass flows, financial costs, environmental impacts, and social implications (like employment).
Rosemarie Wuite from Searious Business, a consultancy specializing in circular plastics solutions, highlights that current disposable packaging often fails to protect products sufficiently, which results in considerable economic losses.
According to Wuite, product damage, theft, or loss are well-known cost contributors in transport packaging and can constitute 5-8% of the total costs, usually borne by the retailer. She suggests that these costs could be eliminated entirely with reusable packaging, leading to notable increases in profit margins.
As for storage, she explains that reusable packaging can be stacked from five to eight levels high, thus minimizing unused vertical warehouse space.
Wuite also draws attention to already available solution providers like FreePackNet, a Swiss company offering Returnable Protective Packaging, and Corplex, a French company that customizes reusable packaging solutions for household appliances.
Wuite emphasizes the need for the appliance sector to act swiftly to achieve the 2030 targets set in the draft legislation rather than spending valuable resources opposing or diluting the PPWR targets.