We were disappointed last month when the European Parliament voted for a version of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) that failed to correct the preferential treatment for some alcohol sectors.

However, this is just one step in the legislative journey for the planned rules. There is still time to fix the PPWR so that it is fair and effective in ensuring that we use less packaging and create less waste.

The next step is that the EU Member State governments now need to decide on a so-called “General Approach”, which they are scheduled to do at the Environment Council this Monday December 18th when Environment Ministers gather together in Brussels. Afterwards, the Parliament’s, Council’s and Commission’s versions of the legislation will need to be reconciled.

That is why, at this critical stage, we believe that the PPWR can and should be changed.

What needs to be done?

The overall aim of the PPWR is to reduce the scourge of needless and excessive packaging. It is certainly what Europe’s beer sector is doing: we have introduced sustainability into our own value chain, and we lead by example when it comes to reducing, reusing and recycling packaging.

The problem lies in how the PPWR deals with alcoholic beverages at large with regard both to reuse and refill targets, and to mandatory rules for deposit return systems. The current draft of the Council’s text exempts wines and spirits from the obligations that the beer sector must respect. The result is that beer faces unjust demands and costs compared to competing alcoholic drink sectors.

This is about discrimination. Such favouritism goes against the EU’s basic principles of a free and fair Single Market. Indeed, the principle of non-discrimination is at the heart of the EU rulebook: when it comes to competing products in the PPWR, there should be no difference in treatment.

Yet beer and other alcoholic beverages (especially wine) are obviously competing products vis-à-vis the consumer. Their respective treatment should not introduce any unjustified distortion of competition. This basic principle has been upheld by European Case Law on a number of occasions.

If exemptions are provided to any alcoholic beverage, then they must apply to beer too to avoid discriminatory treatment. Otherwise, the PPWR will not just be unfair but will be ineffective and undermine its own stated sustainability aims.

We believe that this oversight can still be corrected. This egregious discrimination can be removed from the text. Beer cannot be the only alcoholic drink delivering on the packaging reuse and recycling targets and bound by rules around deposit return systems.

Let’s be clear. We need serious and comprehensive packaging rules. That means a level playing field in packaging legislation, where beer and other alcoholic beverages play by the same rules, with everyone contributing fairly to the objectives of the PPWR.