Your One-Stop Guide to European Packaging Standards

European Packaging Standards

For many packaging suppliers in regions like Australasia, Asia and Africa, entering the European market represents a lucrative opportunity for international growth. European packaging standards, however, can be difficult to navigate.

Companies around the world affected by shortages and delays caused by COVID-19 are anxiously looking for opportunities to diversify their supply chains. If you are a supplier with your eyes set on Europe, there are several regulations and laws pertaining to packaging that you should be aware of. 

Food Packaging

If you plan to import, export or manufacture food packaging and beverage packaging in the EU, there are two main regulations that you must comply with – Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 and Regulation (EC) No 2023/2006.

According to the World Packaging Organization, these regulations are in place to protect consumer health, remove technical barriers to trade, and ensure the safety of food contact materials. Product compliance extends to the product, the packaging materials, and the packaging used to project and display the product, including export cartons. 

A Declaration of Compliance (DoC) must be provided by manufacturers and importers that traces the product chain from production to distribution. Directive 94/62/EC refers to lab testing. This is mandatory for food and cosmetic packaging, and must be included in the DoC.

Regulation EC No 1935/2004 includes safety principles for Food Contact Materials (FCMs). This includes a mandatory food safety symbol that must be placed on all materials that come into contact with food. The wine glass and fork symbol is the same internationally. Use the ‘Do Not Eat’ symbol to identify non-edible parts of packaging. It is important that food contact materials do not transfer materials onto the food product in unacceptable or dangerous quantities. The Overall Migration Limit is 10mg of substances/dm² of the food contact surface for all substances that can migrate from contact materials to food.

Labeling

Packaging labeling regulation depends on the product, and not the packaging material.

As recommended in directive 94/62/EC, a recycling symbol must be included on packaging to meet European packaging standards.

Types of recycling symbols:

  • Green dot: the producer has already made a contribution to the cost of recovery and recycling.
  • Mobius Loop: the packaging is suitable for recycling.
  • Widely Recycled Label: the packaging is 75% recyclable.
  • FSC: Abbreviation for The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which has set out standards on packaging manufactured using forest products.
  • CE: the product is compliant with EN standards or EC directives.
  • WEEE: must be visibly printed on all electrical and electronic equipment.

Packaging Waste

The EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive governs packaging and packaging waste in Europe. It aims to continuously improve the environmental performance of packaging.

The directive requires that: 

  • Packaging volume and weight must meet minimum safety and hygiene standards.
  • Packaging must be designed and produced to allow for re-use, recovery, and recycling.
  • When incinerated or landfilled, minimal emissions, ash or leachate are produced.
  • The physical properties of the packaging must allow for several rotations of re-use.
  • Processing used packaging must meet health and safety requirements.
  • The packaging must fulfill the requirements specific to recoverable packaging when the packaging is no longer reused and becomes waste.
  • Packaging, or a portion of the packaging materials, must be recyclable.
  • Packaging waste processed for the purpose of energy recovery must allow for the optimization of energy recovery.
  • Packaging waste processed for the purpose of composting must not hinder the separate collection and composting process.
  • Biodegradable packaging waste must be able to undergo physical, chemical, thermal or biological decomposition.

Directive 94/62/EC regulates the chemicals and heavy metals present in packaging. It controls the concentration levels of lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium. Generally, the total concentration levels of heavy metals present in packaging or packaging components must not exceed 100 ppm by weight.

European packaging standards are constantly evolving. By the end of 2025, at least 65% of all packaging in the EU must be recycled. 

Chemicals and Pollutants

REACH is an EU regulation that controls chemicals, heavy metal, and pollutants for all products placed on the EU market and limits the amount of substances of very high concern (SVHC) which can be used. This regulation also applies to packaging materials such as plastic, paperwood, wood and steel.

SVHC materials include:

  • Carcinogenic substances under Directive 67/548/EEC
  • Mutagenic substances under Directive 67/548/EEC
  • Toxic for reproduction substances under Directive 67/548/EEC
  • Toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative substances

 

It is illegal to export or sell packaging containing excessive SVHCs in the EU common market. 


Harmonized Standards

A harmonized standard is a European standard developed by a recognized European Standards Organisation such as CEN, CENELEC, or ETSI. 

The following harmonized standards apply to packaging: 

  • CEN EN 13427:2004: packaging and packaging waste
  • CEN EN 13428:2004: manufacturing and composition
  • CEN EN 13429:2004: re-use
  • CEN EN 13430:2004: material recycling
  • CEN EN 13431:2004: energy recovery
  • CEN EN 13432:2000: composting and biodegradation

 

We hope the above overview gives you a broad understanding of the EU regulations and European packaging standards in place that cover packaging and will serve as a base from which to begin your journey to compliance. 

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