HomelabelsEnvironmental labeling of packaging, new rules at the start on 1.1.23

Environmental labeling of packaging, new rules at the start on 1.1.23

The new rules on environmental labeling of packaging - which see Italy at the forefront in the EU, on the circular economy front - are finally applied, starting from 1.1.23.

This concludes the long transition period, granted to producers and professional users, to indicate to consumers the nature of the packaging and the methods to follow for their separate collection.

In view of the effective application of the rules in question, it seems useful to clarify some passages regarding the use of 'digital toolsinformation, as well as to the packaging and parts of the packaging where the prescribed information can be affixed.

1) Environmental labeling of packaging. Premise

The identification codes of packaging materials, developed over the years through technical standards, have been harmonized at European level with decision 1997/129 / EC.

A quarter of a century however, it was not enough for the European Commission to introduce uniform environmental labeling rules for packaging.

The great variety of separate collection systems and recycling and treatment plants, moreover, complicates communication even within the Member States.

2) Environmental labels in Italy

The Italian legislator in this respect, he anticipated the foreseeable developments of the so-called Circular Economy Package. Introducing the obligation, through Legislative Decree 116/2020, to label packaging with information useful for the identification and classification of their materials. (1)

Such news they are useful for correct disposal in separate waste collection containers but also, for the most attentive consumers, to choose the most 'sustainable' packaging. (2) And the Ministry of Ecological Transition (MiTE), with the circular 15.3.22, clarified its application. (3)

3) Information on the label o QR code?

The question arises again whether the environmental label can be replaced by 'electronic tools' how QR code, barcodes or link which refer to sites website, or if it is necessary to report any information on the label. Or again, where even these paths are not viable, if the news can be provided exclusively through the sites website.

The regulatory text on closer inspection reports that 'all packaging must be labeled (…) '. (4) The MiTE on the other hand, in its circular 52445/2021, indicates digital information as'essential'' to ensure correct and complete communication on small packaging (capacity <125 ml or larger surface <25 cm2), imported or multilingual.

3.1) Digital label, informal derogation

In general terms, according to the MITE, 'it is allowed to privilege tools for digitizing information (eg. APP, QR code, websites), in line with the process of technological innovation and simplification'. In practice, a ministerial circular suggested to operators to set aside a legal provision.

The European Commission on the other hand, in commenting on the ministerial guidelines notified to Brussels with Ministerial Decree 13.10.22 n. 114, has expressly requested that the possibility of using digital channels be made explicit in the legislative text. The derogation can therefore be considered approved, albeit awaiting formalization. (5)

3.2) QR code and 'digitization tools', how?

The 'simplification' admitted in Rome and Brussels will certainly not simplify the life of consumers who, in case of doubts about how to properly dispose of individual packages and / or packaging, will have to use a smartphone to decrypt a QR code or visit a site website.

In any case, if operators intend to use QR codes or other digital systems to communicate mandatory information, they must provide clear information on the label on how to access such information. In accordance with the general information transparency requirements. (6)

The only affixing of a QR or a barcode, without explanations on their specific function of providing information useful for the identification and management of packaging materials after their use, is therefore not suitable for fulfilling environmental labeling requirements.

4) Primary and secondary packaging, where to affix the environmental labeling?

The placement of environmental labeling also deserves reflection, given the widespread doubt regarding the mandatory nature of:

  • provide information on external packaging only (eg cardboard used as secondary packaging) or
  • affix them to the individual components of the package (including the primary packaging, e.g. film that wraps the food).

4.1) Criterion of 'manual separation'

The Guidelines on the environmental labeling of packaging adopted by MiTE on 16.3.22 (3) indicate that, in cases of packaging consisting of several components, two hypotheses must be distinguished. Therefore, the criterion of manual separation is applied, in the following terms.

4.1.1) Packaging with parts that can be separated manually

The packaging made up of parts that can be separated manually (eg primary plastic packaging, secondary cardboard packaging) must bear specific indications for each of them, so that the final consumer can separate them and send them to the appropriate containers.

We must therefore report, in relation to each part that can be separated manually:

a) type of packaging (written description or graphic representation) of the different components that can be separated manually, with reference for each of them to

b) alphanumeric identification code of the packaging material, (7)

c) family of material (s), e

d) information on collection.

'When it is not possible indicate the identification code on each single component, for example for reasons of space or other technologically significant limits, it is possible to write them on the main body or on the presentation packaging '.

4.1.2) Packaging with non-separable components

Where the packaging are made up of parts that cannot be separated manually (e.g. plastic film glued on a cardboard tray), it is suggested instead to refer:

  • the wording 'Collection (family of materials prevalent by weight) ', or in any case indicate
  • the family of materials prevalent by weight, preceded by the wording 'Recycling'. And in any case
  • invite the consumer to check the provisions of their municipality.

5) Date of application and transitional period

The DL 30.12.21 n. 228 (converted with law 25.2.22 n. 15) suspended the application of the environmental labeling requirements in question until 31.12.22.

Non-compliant packaging to the aforementioned rules, marketed or labeled before 1.1.23, they can in any case be distributed until stocks are exhausted.

Dario Dongo and Giulia Torre


(1) Dario Dongo. Legislative Decree 116/20, labeling of food packaging. Inapplicable rules. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 3.10.20

(2) 'The most sustainable packaging of all is the one that isn't there'(Stanislao Fabbrino). Politics and public administrations should therefore promote, with effective incentives, the distribution of bulk products and reusable containers

(3) Dario Dongo, Giulia Torre. Environmental packaging labeling, the ministerial ABC. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 19.5.22

(4) Legislative Decree 116/2020, art. 3.3, amending Legislative Decree 152/2006, art. 219.5

(5) Legislative Decree 116/2020, moreover, was not even notified to Brussels as a duty (see note 1). It is therefore legitimate to doubt the legitimacy of the same preceptive norm, for violation of the dir. 2015/1535 / EU

(6) See the Consumer Code, Legislative Decree 206/2005 and subsequent amendments, transposing Directive 2005/29 / EC. This directive has in the meantime been repealed by the recent dir. UE 2019/2161, the so-called Omnibus directive, which the Italian Parliament has delegated the government to implement with the 2021 European delegation law (with serious delay compared to the deadline set on 29.11.21, in view of the application of the new rules in all States members by 28.5.22). The dir. EU 2019/2161 can however qualify as'self-executing'and be already applied, regardless of its actual implementation, on the basis of consolidated jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice (ECJ. See judgment 5.2.1963 in case 26-62, NV Algemene Transport- en Expeditie Onderneming van Gend & Loos v. Dutch Tax Administration)

(7) The coding of the materials follows the criteria set out in Decision 129/1997 / EC or the applicable ISO EN UNI technical standards. See note 3

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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Graduated in law, master in European Food Law, she deals with agro-food, veterinary and agricultural legislation. She is a PhD student at the AGRISYSTEM School for the Agri-food System, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, with a thesis on novel food.

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