Circular Economy Package II – the sustainability package that kept on shrinking

The European Commission finally published the highly anticipated second part of its Circular Economy Package. It was expected to change the business environment to be more sustainable and help consumers make better everyday choices. However, with this shrunk form, it might not reach that far. Emilia Happel opened up this latest package and what was in it.

On November 30, the European Commission published its Circular Economy Package II, which was supposed to be this year’s last “big bang” of green initiatives. However, the package shrunk substantially from the initial idea of what it would contain and at the last minute, the highly anticipated Green Claims initiative was postponed to next year.

The Green Claims initiative aims to reduce greenwashing, where companies claim their product/s are more sustainable than they actually are or where facts do not transparently support the sustainability claims. In 2019, the Commission undertook an online screening exercise, which showed that nearly half of the studied business websites contained unsubstantiated green claims, meaning that they were not transparently explained, making it impossible to assess whether they were true or not. This showed how crucial it is to create rules for Green Claims.

However, this is the second time the Commission has decided to postpone the Green Claims Initiative. A Commission official told Politico that the Commission intends to “come back to this rather sooner than later in 2023.” So, if this kind of “key initiative” was dropped from the package, what was left in it?

Well, now in its final form, the package only included three points:

  1. Carbon Removal Certificate,
  2. Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (previously Directive) and
  3. Communication on EU policy framework on biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics.

In a way, all of these proposals are also supposed to help consumers and citizens to strive for more sustainable lives.

Carbon Removals Certification

Carbon Removals Certification is one of the key legal instruments to help the EU reach its goal of becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Since not all emissions can be eliminated, there is a need to enhance the removal of carbon dioxide to balance out those residual emissions. In practice, it could mean that carbon dioxide is captured from a bioenergy plant or through direct air capture and stored in the ground or locked in a product for a long time.

The Commission suggests that the EU first needs to enhance its capacity to quantify, monitor and verify carbon removals. When these mechanisms are in place, they could be used to set up an EU-wide voluntary framework for highly credible Carbon Removal Certificates. The certificates would prove to business partners, investors and end consumers that the carbon removal meets certain criteria, which the Commission shortened QU.A.L.ITY: Quantification, Additionality, Long-term storage and Sustainability.

Based on these criteria, the Commission will develop tailored certification methodologies suitable for different carbon removal activities. This will be supported by an expert group, which will meet for the first time during the first quarter of 2023. The idea is to develop later a business model where these certificates could also be given an economic value and be traded.

Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation

The Commission announced that the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) will have three aims: “1. to prevent the generation of packaging waste: reduce it in quantity, 2. to boost high quality (‘closed loop’) recycling and 3. to reduce the need for primary natural resources and create a well-functioning market for secondary raw materials.” The overarching objective is to reduce packaging waste per citizen by 15 % in 2040 compared to 2018 in each Member State. In the whole EU, the Commission has calculated that the amount of waste in 2040 would be 37 % lower than if this legislation would not come into force.

The PPWR proposal includes mandatory targets for several recycled materials used in plastic packaging. It would also force restaurants, cafés, shops and hotels to switch to reusable rather than single-use packaging. For example, 20 % of takeaway beverage sales in the hospitality sector need to be provided in reusable packaging by 2030; by 2040, this target will go up to 80 %.

The proposal also wants a clear labelling system for reusable and recyclable packaging, which would “clear up confusion on which packaging belongs to which recycling bin.” Each package will thus have a new labelling system that matches the correct waste collection container. These symbols will be harmonised across the EU, hopefully making life easier for EU citizens.

Communication on EU policy framework on biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics

This part of the package is not a legislative act (regulation or directive), but it is a communication which aims to clarify for EU citizens and companies when and how these plastic materials can have a positive environmental impact. This could also be used as a basis for the relevant eco-design requirements for sustainable products. In the communication, the Commission defines what it means by “biobased”, “biodegradable”, and “compostable”.

Now the Council and the European Parliament will start working on these initiatives. These proposals have already received severe criticism from the industry, from the environmental NGOs as well as from some Members of the Parliament. So, it will be interesting to follow if these proposals will pass the scrutiny of the EU institutions, and not least, whether they will get the final green light before the new Parliament is elected and the new Commission starts its work in 2024.

Emilia Happel is a Consultant and Events & Partnership Manager at Miltton Europe who has dipped her toes in different cultures across the world and has now taken a deep dive into the Brussels way of life.

For more information, please contact

Emilia Happel
Consultant and Events & Partnership Manager at Miltton Europe