The number of single-use plastics used globally has at least tripled since the pandemic, according to the International Solid Waste Association. They are used for an average of 12 minutes and then discarded, usually without proper recycling. The bag is less than two mils thick and takes up to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill or the ocean. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Plastic bags release potentially toxic substances into the soil and water when they break down, causing severe health issues to humans and animals. For instance, chemicals contained in plastic particles, such as phthalates and Bisphenol A (widely known as BPA) can cause disruptions to the hormone systems of humans.
This has raised widespread public concerns over the negative impact of plastic on the environment, human health, and food security. Since approximately 36 percent of all plastics produced are used in packaging, environmental activists, consumers and governments around the world are increasingly demanding sustainable packaging to reduce plastic waste. Regulators in many countries have put in place regulations requiring companies, especially those in the FMCG and retail industries, to stop or limit the use of single-use plastic packaging and change to sustainable packaging materials. FMCG Companies and retailers have an important role to play in making the change for a sustainable future.
This article helps companies understand current regulations and future regulatory developments on plastic packaging and discusses practical steps that companies can take to address the plastic packaging issue.Need regulatory support on packaging? Get in touch with RegASK experts
Plastic packaging regulations around the world
More than 90 countries in the world have enforced a full or partial ban on plastic bags, and another 36 have introduced charges on the use of plastic bags. This section introduces plastic packaging regulations in a few key countries to shed light on the global plastic packaging regulatory landscape.
Eight states have banned single-use plastic bags, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont. Food-contact materials containing plastics must be approved by the US FDA in order to be used for food packaging. FDA has also published Guidance for Industry: Use of Recycled Plastics in Food Packaging (Chemistry Considerations) to recommend chemistry considerations for manufacturers which produce recycled plastic food contact materials. FDA recently agreed to reassess the safety of using bisphenol A (BPA, CAS 80-05-7) in polycarbonate plastics, metal can coatings, and other food contact materials, following a petition from several civil society organizations in early 2022.
The plastic packaging tax came into force in April 2022. This is a new tax that will apply to plastic packaging manufactured in, or imported into the UK, that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic. Plastic straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds are banned in England.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has developed a regulatory framework for food contact materials including plastic. The framework includes:
- Food Contact Materials and Articles Framework Regulation (EC) 1935/2004
- Recycled Plastic Materials and Articles Regulation (EU) 2015/1906 (Amendment to Regulation EC 282/2008)
- Active and Intelligent Packaging Materials (EC) 450/2009
- Food Contact Plastic Materials and Articles Regulation (EU) 2020/1245
- Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (94/62/EC)
Seven out of eight Australian states and territories have banned various types of single-use plastics. The Australian government has released the National Plastics Plan 2021 which includes a list of targets for controlling the plastic waste, such as:
- At least 80% of supermarket products are to display the Australasian Recycling label by December 2023
- 70% of plastic packaging goes on to be recycled or composted by 2025
- Problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging phased out as one of the National Packaging Targets by 2025
China bans single-use plastic straws in restaurants and non-degradable plastic bags in major cities. The Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Prevention and Control of Environmental Pollution by Solid Wastes prohibits or restricts the production, sale, and use of non-degradable plastic bags since September 1, 2020.
Japan’s Plastic Resource Circulation Act came into effect on April 1, 2022, requiring businesses that provide 5 metric tons or more of plastic products per year to reduce the amount used. The law covers 12 plastic items such as spoons and forks offered at supermarkets and convenience stores, toothbrushes supplied by hotels, and hangers at dry-cleaning stores.
Single-use plastic bags are banned in major stores in Thailand. In April 2022, the Thai Industrial Standards Institute (TISI), a department under the Ministry of Industry of Thailand, published five compulsory standards on food contact materials for plastic utensils and plastic food containers for microwaves. The standards specify types of plastic utensils for food, migration limits, safety requirements, and the marking and labeling of plastic packaging. The standards will go into effect on January 3, 2023.Want to know more about packaging regulations? Get in touch with RegASK experts
Regulatory trends and developments in plastic packaging
The packaging industry has seen significant developments in recent years, both in terms of sustainability and regulatory requirements.
- There is a stronger commitment from governments, businesses and civil society at both the global and national levels, as 170 nations have pledged to ‘significantly reduce’ the use of plastics by 2030, which will lead to an increase in plastic packaging regulations and initiatives. For instance, in Australia, the election of the Labor Government and an increased influence of the Greens Party in the Senate means that the implementation of existing policies and programs on recycled packaging will be accelerated, according to the Australian Packaging Covenant Organization (APCO). The government intends to continue investment in recycling infrastructure and set up a new government agency – the Future Made in Australia Office – to support and enhance local manufacturing and recycling capabilities.
- Regulators are more aggressive in enforcing environmental regulations, making it more costly for companies to stay compliant. Cross-border regulatory cooperation is also increasing and more international standards and legal frameworks are to be introduced.
- The emergence of new technologies and innovation is driving the growth of the packaging industry. In the future, companies are going to have more options at their disposal when it comes to designing packaging. Whether it’s artificial intelligence (AI) or new packaging materials, these innovations will drive a shift to new packaging solutions or even new business models, regulatory bodies will try to tackle these innovations with new compliance requirements to ensure safety for consumers.
- Companies will see increased complexity of the regulatory landscape across jurisdictions, for example, bamboo and other plant-based substances have been added to plastics used for packaging purpose, and these plastic products are labeled and marketed as ‘biodegradable’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘organic’, ‘natural’ or even in some cases ‘100% bamboo’. In Ireland, however, substances derived from bamboo are not permitted to be used in plastic as a food contact material.
Four critical steps to begin your journey towards plastic-free packaging
1. Keep up with regulatory changes
The pace of regulatory development in sustainable packaging has been accelerating globally, it is essential for companies to stay up to date with current regulations and anticipate future changes in their target markets.
2. Reevaluate business and regulatory strategies
Companies are recommended to constantly review their strategies to adapt to the ever-changing regulatory and market environments. A good regulatory strategy helps the company identify opportunities and manage risks to achieve its business goals.
3. Benchmark with competitors and other industry players
Benchmarking with competitors and other industry players will help you learn industry best practices, stay up to date on industry standards, and maintain or strengthen your competitive advantage. For instance, in light of the plastic packaging tax, many food businesses in the UK have already started the process of evaluating their packaging and making switches to packaging which is not covered by the tax. Don’t get left behind!
4. Start with small steps
Before making drastic changes that may increase your operational costs, you may find areas that can be easily changed and improved, for example, overpackaging and unnecessary use of materials can be avoided. Lightweight packaging is a good starting point to bring down costs and prepare for bigger changes.
Are you ready to begin your journey towards sustainability? RegASK’s AI-powered technology platform notifies you whenever there is a change in packaging regulations and gives you the knowledge you need to build a sustainable business in alignment with regulators’ expectations. Book a demo to see how it helps you stay compliant and contribute to the circular economy.
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- Early detection and mitigation of regulatory risks
- End-to-end regulatory support throughout your product lifecycle
- Strategic consulting to build the optimal business strategy for your commercial success
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 Liu, J., Yang, Y., An, L. et al. The Value of China’s Legislation on Plastic Pollution Prevention in 2020. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 108, 601–608 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00128-021-03366-6