7 Things you need to know about the Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD)

By Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/ Alistair Berg
Image: Getty/ Alistair Berg

Related tags packaging Sustainability Eu Confectionery Regulation

What’s the latest on the EU’s plastics law?

The European Union’s (EU) Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD)​ aims to reduce the environmental impact of plastic waste. The rules are designed to lower the volume and impact of certain plastic products, including packets, wrappers and food containers.

The SUPD marks the EU’s ongoing commitment to advancing its efforts to curb plastic waste and promote sustainable packaging practices. 

With calls for sustainable action from consumers, manufacturers and regulators, we look at the latest on the SUPD plastics law, what producers need to know and how to prepare.

1. A new packaging and waste proposal

On 24th April 2024, the European Parliament adopted the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), which means big changes are on the horizon for the Single-Use Plastics Directive.​ The new packaging and waste law replaces the existing Packaging Directive 94/62/EC as Europe strives to edge closer towards a circular economy. Overhauling plastics is a fundamental part of the new Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, which will see the Single-Use Plastics Directive change to follow its new rules. 

“This new regulation will bring significant amendments to the existing SUPD, with noteworthy implications for the confectionery sector,” says Rebecca Kaya, regulatory specialist at Ashbury. “The new Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation​ changes mean that confectionery manufacturers will need to re-evaluate their packaging materials, especially those that may have once been exempt from the Single-Use Plastics Directive​ regulations,” Kaya adds.

2. The EU accelerates efforts to reduce packaging waste

The latest update on the Single-Use Plastics Directive​ is that beverage manufacturers must ensure all plastic caps are attached to bottles. While this does not directly affect the confectionery space, it “comes as part of a series of actions from the European Parliament to tackle the EU’s mounting piles of packaging waste”, Marie-Elisabeth Rusling, head of public affairs at EIT Food, says.

The move indicates that the EU is ramping up its requirements for producers to limit the environmental impact of their goods. In May 2024, the European Commission launched an infringement case against Italy on the grounds it had not effectively followed the SUPD.

“Many of the provisions of the Single-Use Plastics Directive​ have been recently replaced by the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation​ which is more ambitious than previous targets and contains recycled content targets for other types of food-contact packaging, including confectionery packaging,” says Rusling.

The Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation ​proposal indicates the EU’s intention to broaden its legal framework to other industry segments, including confectionery. Producers throughout Europe will need to keep a close eye on how the regulation develops and its impact on the existing Single-Use Plastics Directive​ as it may require them to formulate more sustainable packaging alternatives to plastic.

 “While progress at the EU policy level is welcome, it also highlights the need to accelerate innovation in sustainable packaging solutions,” says Rusling. “If the food industry is to transition away from single-use plastics at the necessary speed and scale, the packaging market is in urgent need of viable alternatives,” Rusling adds.

3. Changes to the composite packaging definition

If introduced, the arrival of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation proposal will amend the existing Single-Use Plastics Directive. Under the proposed PPWR, the definition of composite packaging has been revised. Notably, single-use packaging that contains plastics, even if it constitutes less than 5% of the total mass of the packaging unit, will no longer be exempt.

“This change mandates that more packaging types will fall under the scope of the directive, compelling manufacturers to reassess their packaging materials and compositions,” says Kaya.

4. Restrictions in the HORECA sector

The Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation regulation introduces restrictions on single-use packaging for food and drinks consumed within the premises of the hotel, restaurant, and café (HORECA) sector. This measure aims to reduce waste generated in these venues. It also requires consumers to always have the option to purchase food and drinks for takeaway in reusable or their own containers, further promoting the use of sustainable alternatives.

5. Clear labelling information

Despite amendments to the SUPD, the core elements remain intact, continuing the EU’s trajectory towards sustainability. Labelling requirements are among these. Confectionery products will need to be labelled “to inform consumers about their plastic content, appropriate disposal methods, and the environmental harm caused by littering”, Kaya says.

6. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Schemes

EPR schemes are a policy tool within Europe that extends confectionery producers’ responsibility over the environmental impact of their packaging to the post-consumer phase of a product’s lifecycle.

“Producers will face obligations related to waste management and clean-up,” says Kaya. This includes participation in EPR schemes and adherence to data reporting requirements, ensuring that the lifecycle impacts of packaging are managed responsibly. Under the SUPD, manufacturers need to contribute to the associated waste management costs​, including collection, transportation, treatment, clean-up and awareness-raising efforts.

7. Invest in R&D for sustainable alternatives

“Manufacturers will need to invest in research and development (R&D) to find sustainable alternatives that comply with the new regulations,” says Kaya. This might include exploring biodegradable materials, recyclable options or innovative packaging solutions that reduce plastic use.

To stand out on the shelves and appeal to consumers, confectionery packaging often features intricate designs and materials to achieve product freshness, protect delicate contents, and provide visually appealing presentations.

“The shift towards more stringent regulations on plastic content and the promotion of reusable or own-container options in the HORECA sector could significantly impact how these products are packaged and presented to consumers,” says Kaya.

Staying up to date with the directive’s developments

As EU law works to prioritise sustainability, it’s vital that confectionery manufacturers stay informed and engaged with these Single-Use Plastics Directive and Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation developments over the next year.

By doing so, producers can not only ensure their regulatory compliance but can also contribute to wider environmental goals and meet the growing consumer demands for eco-friendly confectionery products and packaging.

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