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New EU packaging laws will apply to UK food exports

The European Commission has proposed significant reforms to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (which governs EU packaging laws) which will ensure that all packaging circulating in the EU market is reusable or recyclable in an economically viable manner by 2030. The proposals, which will affect everything from food to white goods, will also require all packaging placed on the EU market to meet greater recycled content targets in efforts to reduce waste.



Under the reforms, all packaging placed on the EU market will have to be recyclable (the meaning of which will be defined by the legislation). The packaging will have to comply, amongst other things, with the following requirements:

  • from 1 January 2030, be designed for recycling
  • be separately collected
  • have capacity to be recyclable at scale (starting from 1 January 2035).


Certain single-use packaging (not just plastic) will be banned including shrink wrap, certain single-use packaging for fresh fruit and vegetables, and single-use miniature packaging such as shampoo bottles. In addition, single-use plastic or composite packaging for foods and beverages filled and consumed on premises cannot be used from 1 January 2030 (including disposable plates, cups, bags and trays).

All packaging placed on the EU market will have to be designed and utilised in such a way as to be reused for the maximum number of times. Sales packaging of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks (with the exception of wine) will have to meet a 10% reusability target, which will be raised incrementally to 25% in 2040.

Recycled content

There will be minimum amounts of recycled content required in each unit of plastic packaging. For example, by 2030 all plastic drinks bottles and food wrapping made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) will have to be made of 30% recycled content. The recycled content targets will incrementally rise throughout the years in a bid to gradually increase the amount of recycled content in each unit of plastic packaging.

Size of packaging

New rules relating to the size of packaging will be introduced. Each unit of packaging must be scaled down to its minimum size by weight, volume and layers of packaging. This will include transport packaging. A new “empty space” ratio limit of 40% will force businesses to reconsider their packaging approach to ensure that no more than 40% of the total volume of packaging is empty space (for example, filled by bubble wrap or polystyrene).

How we can help

Clearly the new EU packaging laws will significantly affect food and drink businesses in the UK which export products to the EU. While it’s still early in the legislative process, please contact the Food & Drink team so that we can help you understand the provisions in the draft regulation and help you prepare for the eventual changes.