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R3PACK, sustainable packaging and reuse in Horizon Europe

New sustainable fiber-based packaging and innovative reuse or reuse schemes are at the heart of the R3PACK research project (Reduce, Reuse, Rethink PACKaging) co-financed by the program Horizon europe. (1)

1) Food and plastic packaging. Premise

Packaging waste represent 36% of municipal solid waste in the EU, as well as 61% of post-consumer plastic waste collected via the relevant streams. (2) And plastic is at the same time:

  • the type of materials most used to package food products sold at retail in the EU (37% of the total),
  • the material with the drastically lower recycling rate than others. 41% the EU average, 46% in Italy (2,3),
  • a growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, which are estimated to account for 15% of the total by 2050, (4)
  • a primary cause of microplastic pollution and toxic chemicals in the atmosphere and in water, including those of large Italian water basins. So in food, even in fruit and vegetables. And finally in the human placenta, in the blood, in the lungs.

2) R3PACK (Reduce, Reuse, Rethink PACKaging). The EU research project

The R3PACK research project aspires to provide manufacturers, retailers and users of packaging with some innovative and economic solutions, with the two macro-objectives of:

  • immediately replace multilayer plastic packaging with high-performance fiber packaging. In a logic of reduction of both packaging materials and plastic,
  • remove some current barriers to industrial reuse, introducing proposals for new standards of its key phases (eg food safety protocols, washing processes).

3) Circular economy and responsibility

The responsability of all the social parties involved is the condition for the circular economy to express itself in practice. And it is therefore necessary to stimulate everyone's awareness of the environmental impact of packaging waste, especially those made of plastic materials:

  • SAFE (Safe Food Advocacy Europe), one of 24 partner of the research project, is called to raise awareness of the widespread adoption of virtuous behavior, also at the level of production and distribution, where
  • Big food is the global protagonist of plastic pollution, greenwashing e LOBBY against environmental policies, also in conjunction with the oil giants, (5,6,7)
  • italian retailer Europeans, also protagonists of the agri-food chain, in turn still have a disastrous 'plastic footprint'. (8)

4) Reduce, Reuse, Rethink PACKaging

The waste hierarchy, in the ever present Lansink scale, indicates the reduction of packaging materials (Cut Back) as the first and most effective circular economy solution. Any initiative in this sense - also in combination with reuse (Reuse), for example in the sale of food and consumer products in bulk (9) - should therefore always be given preference over others.

Tax measures such as plastic tax are indispensable for fostering this type of change, albeit hampered by LOBBY sector. (10)

Significant reductions of plastic materials - up to 86% of the total reduction achievable by 2040, according to the studies deduced in the R3PACK research project - can be obtained with innovative technologies that provide for the replacement of polymers with high-strength natural fibers in multilayer and multi-material packaging , which express the greatest untapped potential. (11)

5) Provisional conclusions

The Circular Economy Package it laid the foundations for a paradigm shift in materials management according to the waste hierarchy, starting from the design phase (12,13). The rapid and widespread adoption of innovative technologies, scalable at industrial and intersectoral level - as well as advantageous, in the economy of complex systems - must in any case be accompanied by incentives and fiscal measures, throughout the value chain, proportionate to the effectiveness of reuse schemes.

Customers will participate in the R3PACK research project by offering feedback concrete on their experience with the reusable and recycled packaging that will be developed. SAFE will also develop policy recommendations on relevant dossier EU legislation. Revision of the regulation on materials in contact with food (MOCA), directive on packaging and packaging waste, rules on PFAS (alkyls for fluorinated substances) and other toxic chemicals. (14)

# SDG3, # SDG12, # SDG14, # SDG15

Dario Dongo


(1) The partners involved in the project are (RESET (coordinator), Aarhus University, Altho SAS, BIM Kemi Sweden AB, Bioextrax, Candia, Carrefour, National Research Council, Cooperative U Enseigne, Fiberlean Technologies Ltd, Floréale, Frandex SAS, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Angewandten Forschung EV, Gascogne, Guillin Emballages, Innovhub - Experimental Stations for Industry srl, Laiterie de Saint Denis de l'Hôtel, Politecnico di Milano, RISE Innventia AB, SAFE - Safe Food Advocacy Europe, Schreiber Foods, SGS France, Thiolat, University of Bologna

(2) Dario Dongo. Plastic in packaging and in agriculture, a problem for the environment and health. Report of the EU Court of Auditors. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 26.1.21

(3) Martha Strinati. Waste recycling, where are we? The 2020 Report. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 10.12.20

(4) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei. Plastic and greenhouse gas emissions, an emergency to be prevented. Scientific study. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 9.2.20

(5) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. Plastic pollution, the responsibilities of Big Food. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 12.1.22

(6) Martha Strinati. Stop to plastic bottles. The Greenpeace petition. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 20.9.21

(7) Isis Consuelo Sanlucar Chirinos. Coca-Cola in Mexico breaks the ban on the use of PET in bottles. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 31.8.22

(8) Martha Strinati. The plastic footprint of European supermarkets. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 9.7.22

(9) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. Bulk food at the supermarket, the ecological transition in France. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 17.5.21

(10) Dario Dongo, Luca Foltran. PlasticTax and reuse, Italian disputes and examples in Europe. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 4.11.19

(11) Dario Dongo, Marta Strinati. Disposable plastic, polylaminate and bioplastic items. Green horizons. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 4.6.21

(12) Luca Foltran, Dario Dongo. Circular economy, ABC EU package. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 6.6.18

(13) Dario Dongo. Packaging labeling, postponement to 30.6.22. The guidelines are coming. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 2.1.22

(14) Martha Strinati. PFAS in rainwater and food, a global ban is urgently needed. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 26.8.22

(15) Martha Strinati. Dangerous chemistry, the European Commission's Restrictions Roadmap. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 3.5.22

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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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