European case law long ago established that beer competes with wine and other alcoholic beverages on the drinks market. So why then, do draft versions of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) proposals – currently under discussion in the European Parliament and Council working groups – discriminate against beer?

While many reasons have been given, none justify the full exemptions being proposed for other alcoholic beverage categories, whether for reuse targets or for participation in recycling collection schemes. The European Commission’s original proposal loosely justifies the discrimination by referring to “the nature of the products and differences in their production and distribution systems.” Elsewhere, though, it insists on the need to assure equal treatment between operators.

Reuse, recycling and comprehensive reuse and recycling collection systems are nothing new to the beer sector. More than half our beer volumes in the EU are sold in reusable packaging (though this varies from country to country and brewer to brewer).

The rest of the beer? This is typically sold in recyclable packaging, using recycled content that is collected at impressive rates. We don’t stand still either: we’re moving to get those numbers even higher!

So yes, we brewers come at this from a strong starting point. But business as usual is not sustainable in this day and age. There is too much packaging waste across the beverage industry and the EU’s overall objectives can’t be met if the job is only left to those already doing the job – that would give other sectors a free pass! Nor should we lose sight of the fact that beverage packaging is just one part of the packaging that is currently so visible in our society.

We get it this is not easy, and that change takes time and costs money. We know it because brewers have gone through this. We’ve invested in new technologies, sourced alternative energy and redesigned our production, distribution and collection systems to improve the sustainability of our entire brewing systems. Sensible transition times are needed. Objectively justified exemptions may be the order of the day in some cases, also for environmental reasons. But the cost of doing nothing is far greater!

Every sector faces challenges, but that does not mean the proposal should favour some categories over others. The current version of the PPWR does just that. It gives some alcoholic products – but not beer – exemptions from reuse targets and mandatory deposit return systems (DRS). And it does so without any legal or environmental justification. Who can seriously argue that a beer can should be part of a collection system, but if the same can were to contain an alcopop or even wine (yes, that’s a thing now!), then suddenly it can’t?

Europe needs a level playing field in packaging legislation, where beer and other alcoholic beverages play by the same rules, with everyone contributing fairly to reaching the targets and supporting the collection systems.

We believe brewing can have a positive impact on the planet. We are committed to working with EU decision-makers and the packaging supply chain to ensure that the PPWR will support the wider EU sustainability agenda. The European Parliament and the Member States have a critical role to play now to bring the Commission’s proposal towards an ambitious and intelligent final piece of legislation. The overall objectives are already there, but the right details are not. As the saying goes, the devil is in the detail and a key starting point for getting some of those details right now will be ensuring there are no free riders. This must be a collective effort and, for brewers, that means our competitors must also pull their weight. That is fair for brewers, citizens and the environment!