Consultancy / 17.03.2022

Recyclability, recycled content and the perfect storm

Recyclability, recycled content and the perfect storm

There are many companies in the value chain of thermoformed PET packaging that are pressured by customers and suppliers to meet expectations regarding the recyclability and recycled content of their products that go beyond what is reasonable and that are not contemplated in current legislation and, sometimes, not even in what is to come.

This “be-more-Catholic-than-the-Pope” may rely on a lack of knowledge of how the value chain works and adds stress to companies, which are powerless to meet the demands of its clients and to assume the technical, administrative, innovation and compliance costs… in a current context insane due to the scarcity of raw materials, escalating prices, a smear campaign against plastic, a pandemic and, as a cherry on the cake, an armed conflict of great global economic impact. We are facing the perfect storm.

To seek a balance and a fair transition, we are going to review the definitions of recyclable packaging and recycled content and how they are articulated or will be articulated in the legislative framework:

Definition of Recyclable Packaging


Under the framework of the European Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan, the European Commission will require that all packaging placed on the European market be reusable or recyclable by 2030.

This means that the companies that currently put packaging on the market that do not have an infrastructure for its recycling at a European level, must develop it over these eight years in order to guarantee its recyclability.

Thus, in the case of thermoformed PET packaging, there are already facilities for their recycling in countries such as Spain, France or the Netherlands, but the recycling capacity must still be expanded by undertaking the necessary investments by the value chain of PET thermoforms to be able to collect, select and recycle the million seventeen thousand tons (1,017Mt)1 that are placed on the market annually

Therefore, it is not correct to state that thermoformed PET containers are not recyclable. Moreover, these types of statements go completely against reality and can very negatively affect the perception of the final consumer who, based on sustainability criteria, can choose not to purchase this type of product, affecting the investment capacity of the industry.

In this sense, the European Commission is currently reviewing the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) and the two following issues are being modified:

1) The definition of what is considered a “recyclable packaging”.

2) The Annex II on the “essential requirements that packaging must meet in order to be designed as recyclable”.

Recycled content in plastic packaging


The Directives that establish the framework for this issue at European level, which must be transposed into the legal system in each member country, are Directive 2018/851 on waste, Directive 2018/852 on packaging and packaging waste and Directive 2019/ 94 on reducing the impact of certain plastic products on the environment, known as the Single-Use Plastics Directive (or SUP Directive).

In the Spanish case, for example, it is the Law on waste and contaminated soil, whcich publication is expected for early spring, which transposes Directives 2018/851 and 2019/94. The Royal Decree on packaging and packaging waste (currently in draft and expected to be published by the end of the year) will transpose Directive 2018/852 and the general regime of 2018/851.

With regard to recycled content, thermoformed PET containers are directly affected by the Spanish Law on waste in relation to the tax on non-reusable plastic packaging: the tax object is the semi-finished product used to obtain the container, that is, the PET sheet and the tax base on the virgin plastic content.

The implementation of the tax will begin on the 1st of January 2023 and, during the first year, companies will be allowed to prove the taxable base of the tax through a signed responsible declaration. As of the 1st of January 2024, the amount of recycled plastic contained in the products that are part of the objective scope of the tax must be certified by an accredited entity2 to issue certification under the UNE-EN 15343: 2008 «Plastics. Recycled plastics. Traceability and conformity assessment of the recycling of plastics and recycled content» or the standards that replace them.

As for the Royal Decree on packaging and packaging waste, currently at the draft stage, the most notable can be read in this article published on the foundation’s blog.



Regarding recyclability:


Currently, it should not be stated whether a packaging is recyclable or not, without further ado, because there is still no official definition at European level of what should be considered as a “recyclable packaging“. What can be confirmed is whether the container meets some type of reference criteria, such as recyclability guidelines, which are designed based on currently available technologies. In the case of PET thermoforms, there are the PETCORE guidelines (only for monolayer transparent PET trays) and the PLASTIC SENSE FOUNDATION guidelines (for monolayer and multilayer PET trays) that they are expected to be unified in a single reference throughout this year.

Additionally, the allusions related to the recyclability of packaging both in the current legislation of the Member States and in transposition (Spanish case), must be subject to this definition of recyclable packaging that is currently being developed.

Regarding recycled content:


Companies in the value chain of PET thermoforms should not rush to demand from their suppliers and customers those documentary evidence that is not yet legally required. To this end, the RETRAY certification scheme is being created as a sectoral solution to these requirements that will allow companies in the thermoformed PET packaging value chain to endorse their achievements and claims regarding the recycled content and recyclability of trays.

(1) Source: “PET market in Europe. State of play 2022” report

(2) The certifying entities must be accredited by the National Accreditation Entity or by the national accreditation body of any other Member State of the European Union, designated in accordance with the provisions of Regulation (EC) No. 765/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of July 9, 2008, which establishes the accreditation and market surveillance requirements related to the marketing of products and which repeals Regulation (EEC) No. 339/93

To know more:


United Kingdom, Spain and the plastic packaging tax

PET thermoforms in the forthcoming Spanish legal frame

Barriers and opportunities in the circularity of thermoformed PET containers