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The Evolution of Packaging Regulations

The driving force behind packaging and product legislation is environmental concern over resource use, pollution, and waste management, coupled with the notion that businesses that manufacture and use packaging should bear some of the burden of managing packaging waste.

As international commerce, Internet sales, and the trend toward products with short life-spans continue to develop, the volume of goods placed on the market (and subsequent waste from these products and their packaging) has increased dramatically, often faster than waste disposal capacity.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), municipal solid waste increased 40% from 1980 to 1997 in OECD countries and private household consumption grew 37.5% during the same period1. Packaging waste is a growing waste stream in many countries, particularly those undergoing rapid socio-economic change. For example, the per-capita quantity of packaging in Poland and the Czech Republic is significantly lower than that of western European countries, but the waste stream is changing as the range of products marketed to consumers becomes more westernized2.

But in Western Europe, the per-capita consumption of packaging is also increasing - one important factor is the growing proportion of single-person households, which favor smaller retail units, single-portion packs, and other convenience items over economy-size packages and bulk goods. These changes have generated a push towards reducing and recycling packaging. However, waste disposal solutions come at a price, and someone has to pay.

Packaging Regulation In many countries, the "polluter pays" principle and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) lie at the heart of packaging and product regulations. Traditionally, packaging waste has been managed through government-operated and -funded recycling and disposal programs. However, the costs of waste management (i.e. collection, disposal) are not reflected in the price of products.

Internalizing these costs within the product chain by charging companies a fee on the packaging they place on the market ensures that these costs are considered and not borne solely by government and society (i.e., taxpayers) more generally. The goal of these systems is not to penalize industry, but rather to assign a portion of the costs to the members of the supply chain who can most directly influence the selection of designs, materials, processes, and other aspects of production and marketing. In this regard, packaging developers are encouraged to reduce packaging and other environmental costs. Packaging regulations force manufacturers to incorporate waste management costs into packaging costs, product design, and innovation.

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