Packaging compliance: three challenges

Packaging regulation is high on the agenda for global regulatory authorities. How is this reshaping the packaging compliance landscape?

In an era of heightened environmental awareness, the world of packaging compliance is undergoing significant change. Emerging regulations and new expectations related to sustainable business practices are altering the landscape for packaging compliance as we know it. This is affecting not only those who work in the packaging industry, but increasingly those whose work is connected to it too.  

Here are three trends underpinning the new challenges reshaping packaging compliance.  

1. A growing volume of emerging regulation   

The proposals to revise the EU’s packaging and packaging waste directive is one of the best-known and most widely reported regulatory developments related to packaging. But its far from the only one. In jurisdictions around the world, regulatory authorities are working on proposals to introduce new regulation around packaging, whether at state level in the US or in countries including – but not limited to – Australia, Brazil, Chile, China, Japan, Spain, Tanzania and Uganda. 

New regulations are also being proposed at a substance level – such as for PFAS – and by industry sector, including food contact materials, and cosmetics and personal care

While both mandatory obligations and voluntary initiatives have existed until now, the momentum is towards legislation. The result will be a far more regulated environment for compliance, along with further complexity of the rules businesses must follow.  

2. Responsibility is moving upstream  

Evolving extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs are driving the uptick in packaging regulations worldwide.  

EPR, which considers ‘end of life’ management, originated in the electrical and electronics equipment sector. EPR programs are now being adopted across many other sectors in efforts to drive circular economy ambitions and to tackle environmental impacts of a product’s full lifecycle.  

The ripple effect is upstream. Emerging regulations cover all aspects of the packaging lifecycle, including design, chemical restrictions, product labelling, recycling content, and product claims.  

The result is that businesses previously unaffected by packaging regulations will now be impacted by regulatory changes in some way. It’s no longer just those businesses manufacturing, importing or distributing packaging materials that have regulatory obligations. Brand owners and retailers of all products will be responsible for the packaging they introduce into the market. 

3. Lack of harmonization 

The third challenge reshaping packaging product compliance is a lack of harmonization. Obligations vary widely across countries and even at state and province level.  

A look at labelling and recycling requirements is a case in point. Individual countries such as France and Spain in Europe are implementing their own packaging requirements around marking and recycling, creating a huge challenge for businesses wanting to use the same packaging across the European market. Fines for non-compliance can be considerable.  

Even if obligations were harmonized, those working in packaging compliance would face an additional challenge. Harmonization might require some countries to repeal requirements implemented in recent years; and any changes would inevitably add cost for companies which have already invested in keeping up to date with new requirements so far.  

As the three challenges above show, it’s clear that packaging compliance is undergoing significant change and will continue to evolve. Packaging has a unique role in industry – one that’s recognised by policymakers and businesses looking to hit new environmental targets.  

The new reality facing professionals working in packaging is a complex compliance landscape placing greater demands than ever on producers being responsible.  

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