On 27 December 2022, the Spanish Council of Ministers approved the Royal Decree on Packaging and Packaging Waste,a comprehensive review of the Spanish regulations with the purpose of progressing in the implementation of the Circular Economy and achieving the new packaging recycling targets established by the European Union by 2025 and 2030.
The main developments include measures aimed at preventing waste, promoting the sale of food in bulk, increasing reusable packaging and promoting recycling and product marking. We have collected several key issues that directly affect the PET thermoformed packaging sector:
What is meant by recyclability in the Royal Decree?
Article 2.u) defines as packaging recyclability “the effective recycling capacity of packaging waste”. The Royal Decree considers three criteria:
1º The containers are collected separately in an efficient manner, through user access to nearby collection points.
2º The packaging does not present characteristics, elements or substances that prevent classification and sorting, recycling or limit the subsequent use of the recycled material.
3º The packaging is recycled on an industrial scale with commercial processes that guarantee a sufficient quality of the recycled material for its subsequent uses. Furthermore, It is recycled in an amount greater than 50% of the mass of the waste collected from that type of packaging.
The temporary milestone is established in article 6.1.b), where the objective is set “to ensure that all packaging placed on the market is recyclable by 2030, and whenever possible, reusable”.
How can prevention measures affect PET containers for fruits and vegetables?
Article 7.4.a) establishes that retail businesses must present in bulk “those fresh fruits and vegetables that are marketed whole”. This obligation does not apply to fruits and vegetables that:
– Are packaged in lots of 1.5 kilograms or more.
– are packaged under a protected or registered variety or have an indication of differentiated quality or organic farming.
– present a risk of damage when sold in bulk.
The latter will be determined by order of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food within six months from the entry into force of the Royal Decree, that is, before 28 June 2023 Once the list is published, retailers will have a period of six months for its adaptation for non-excepted fruits and vegetables.
It is worth noting section b) of this article, that indicated “to promote the sale of food in bulk, especially in those cases in which the packaging does not provide any added value to the product “.
What are the targets of recycled content?
To guarantee the circular use of waste in non-compostable packaging, article 11.3. establishes that the containers have the following contents of recycled plastic: establishes that the containers have the following contents of recycled plastic:
– By 2025, PET packaging shall have at least 25% recycled material, calculated as an average of all PET packaging that the producers1 put on the market.
– By 2030, all plastic packaging shall contain at least 30% recycled material, calculated as an average of all plastic packaging put on market. In the specific case of jars, tubs, trays and other similar plastic items, the minimum percentage is set at 15%. In the specific case of jars, tubs, trays and other similar plastic items, the minimum percentage is set at 15%.
Article 12.2.c) establishes that the amount of recycled plastic “must be certified by an accredited entity to issue certification under the EN 15343:2008 standard «Plastics. Recycled plastics. Traceability and conformity assessment of the recycling of plastics and recycled content” or the standards that replace it”.
Regarding the certification entities, it is established that “Certifying entities for this purpose must be accredited by the National Accreditation Entity (in the Spanish case it is ENAC)or by the national accreditation body of any other Member State of the European Union, designated according to to the provisions of Regulation (EC) number 765/2008 (…) which establishes the requirements for accreditation and market surveillance related to the marketing of products (…), or in the case of products manufactured outside the European Union, any other accreditor with whom ENAC has an international recognition agreement”.
What are the marking and information obligations?
The most relevant aspects are developed in article 13, that determines that:
– The packaging must indicate the collection waste container where the packaging waste must be thrown..
– Using the terms “environmentally friendly ” or any other equivalent is prohibited, as it may induce the consumer to littering.
– In relation to recyclability, these may be marked with the percentage of packaging material, including its components, available for quality recycling, provided that the criteria in article 2.u) are met.
The percentage may only be included if “it has been obtained through an auditable and certifiable evaluation by entities other than the packaging manufacturers and the product producers themselves, taking into account the characteristics and technologies of collection, selection and recycling existing on an industrial scale and with sufficient geographical coverage throughout the territory of the State for this purpose, at the time of its placing on the market. The percentage must be reviewed at least every five years.”
– In relation to the recycled content, the packaging may include the percentage of recycled material, provided that this information is supported by a certificate under the EN 15343 standard.
Will the Green Dot tariffs consider the recyclability and recycled content of the packaging?
Article 23.3 establishes that the contribution of producers to extended responsibility systems must be modulated for each type of packaging taking into account, among others, that they can be recycled, the amount of recycled contain or other factors that affect the recycling of packaging waste or the incorporation of recycled materials.
The bonuses and penalties must be established by the collective systems, in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner, and must guarantee the participation of all interested parties. Annex VIII establishes the following criteria for eco-modulation in terms of specific bonuses:
– Minimum bonus of 10% to the containers that are marked with the percentage of material of the container available for quality recycling, in accordance with the provisions of article 13.4.
– Bonus for plastic packaging that incorporates at least an additional 10% over the mandatory minimum content of recycled plastic included in article 11.3 and 11.4, provided that the recycled plastic comes from packaging waste.
– The use of recycled plastic from household packaging waste will result in an additional bonus. The use of production scraps resulting from the manufacture of this type of packaging and materials from pre-consumer packaging waste will not give rise to the bonus.
How does the RETRAY certification help to meet the requirements of the Royal Decree?
The use of PET thermoformed packaging and the RETRAY certification will help packers in five key issues:
The RETRAY approved recycler, Sulayr GS, recycles waste from PET thermoformed packaging on an industrial scale in Spain for years. In this sense, to increase the number of tray-to-tray recycling companies is key to guarantee in the long term 50% recycling of the mass of waste collected and that the packaging is considered recyclable by 2030 according to the criteria of the Royal Decree.
Regarding collection, the Ecoembes Green Point 2023 tariffs distinguish within the PET material beverage bottles of less than 3 liters and PET rigid bodies However, in the operations of classification and sorting of packaging from selective collection, both types of packaging are integrated into the same stream (PET plastic containers, admitting all colors) and it is the recycler which acquires the bale who separates the bottles from the rigid bodies. El esquema RETRAY homologa a aquellos recicladores de PET botella que recuperan de ese flujo los envases termoformados de origen posconsumo y los hacen llegar a un reciclador homologado, así como a gestores de residuos, para impulsar la separación en origen.
In relation to the quality of the waste (which does not present characteristics, elements or substances that prevent classification and sorting, recycling or limit the subsequent use of the recycled material), the foundation has published Recyclability Guidelines for monolayer and multilayer transparent PET thermoformed packaging that seek to increase the recycling potential of waste.
According to the report “ PET market in Europe , state of play 2022 ”, written by Eunomia , thermoforms account for 20% of PET products placed on the market in Europe in 2020, compared to 64% of beverage bottles. This volume together with the availability (effective selective collection) and quality of thermoformed packaging waste from the post-consumer circuit (reduction of improper, etc.), will be undoubtedly a stimulus for the investment increase, the establishment of new tray-to-tray recyclers and the achievement of European objectives by 2030.
2) Fruits and vegetables packed in PET tray
A priori, thermoformed PET containers are mainly used to preserve “fruits and vegetables that present a risk of damage or loss when sold in bulk”. Such is the case of salads or cut fruits and cut vegetables requiring special conservation conditions and which are packaged precisely in this type of packaging due to the barrier function, that it is an added value of PET thermoforms.
Although the impact on the use of PET thermoformed packaging is expected to be minimal, we shall have to wait and see the order from the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to know the list of foods at risk of damage or loss.
3) Recycled content
Regarding the minimum recycled content, PET thermoforms exceed the percentages established in the Royal Decree to date, since the sheets incorporate an average of 50% recycled material at European level.
Regarding the certification of recycled material,the RETRAY scheme integrates the requirements of the EN 15343 standard both for the calculation of the percentage content of recycled plastic incorporated into the products manufactured throughout a certain period of time (RETRAY Process) as for the calculation of the percentage content of recycled material that incorporates a specific product format (RETRAY Product).
The RETRAY General Regulation establishes the the conditions that the Certification Entities must meet in order to operate in the scheme and stipulates that “the certification entity must be accredited for the ISO/IEC 17065 standard in the RETRAY scheme by an Accreditation Body member of EA ( European Cooperation for Accreditation ) or IAF (International Accreditation Forum ), which has signed the mutual recognition agreements”. In the case of Spain, the EA member entity is ENAC. In the case of Spain, the EA member entity is ENAC.
4) Claims on the packaging
The containers certified with RETRAY Product may include the percentage of recycled content, since the information is supported by a certificate under the EN 15343 standard.
Regarding recyclability, until the criteria established in section 2.u) of the Royal Decree are met, no related claims may be included. In any case, the certificates issued for the products audited under RETRAY Product will include compliance with the Recyclability Guidelines defined by the Foundation and aligned with the European association Petcore, if the requirement has been verified in the audit. It should be noted that, as stated in the RETRAY Procedures, the only acceptable quality level is 100% compliance with the guidelines and, therefore, this will be the Declared Quality Level (NCD) by the company for the certified product.
5) Bonuses on Green Dot tariffs
Although Ecoembes still does not contemplate bonus for plastic packaging, according to its document “Green Point tariffs 2023” the containers certified with RETRAY Product that incorporate at least an additional 10% over the mandatory minimum content of recycled plastic (in accordance with the provisions of article 11 of the Royal Decree, 25% for PET containers) shall benefit from a bonus in the near future. In this sense, we shall have to wait for the conditions determined by this entity and how it will approach the bonus for the percentage of packaging material available for quality recycling.
Press release from the Spanish Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge
(1) The Royal Decree defines “product producer” as “packer or economic agent dedicated to the importation or acquisition in other Member States of the European Union of packed products for putting on the Spanish market”.