How to reduce packaging waste in the EU (infographics)

Online shopping, take-away food, coffee to go... Packaging waste is growing. Find out how much is being produced and how the EU wants to reverse the trend.

Packaging comes in different formats (bottles, containers, cans, boxes, bags), is made of different materials (paper, cardboard, plastics, glass, wood, metal) and used in all stages of production, from raw materials to processed goods. Manufacturers, transporters, supermarkets, restaurants, households - they all need and use packaging to protect and transport goods.

What is packaging?

  • Products used to contain, protect, handle, deliver or present goods

How much packaging waste do we generate?


All this packaging has its environmental cost. On average, each EU resident generated 189 kilos of packaging waste in 2021. Over ten years, the amount has increased by over 20%.

Infographic showing the volume of packaging waste per person in the European Union from 2012 to 2021. In 2021, the packaging waste amounted to 189 kg per capita, 34 kg more than 10 years ago.
Infographic showing the volume of packaging waste per person in the European Union from 2012 to 2021

Numbers vary between countries, from as low as 74 kilos per person in Croatia, to 246 kilos per person in Ireland.

In 2021, the EU generated a total of 84.3 million tonnes of packaging waste, 4.8 million tonnes more than a year before. Most of it was paper and cardboard (40.3%), followed by plastic (19%), glass (18.5%), wood (17.1%) and metal (4.9%).

Infographic showing the amount of packaging waste generated in the European Union in 2021 by different types of materials. The most common packaging waste material was paper and cardboard, with 40.3% of the total.
Infographic showing the amount of packaging waste generated in the EU in 2021 by different types of materials

Some 64% of packaging waste was recycled in 2021 and about 80% was recovered, which means that the waste has been treated in one way or another so that it can serve a useful purpose in the future (this also includes recycling).

Read more key facts on how waste is managed in the EU

EU rules on packaging and packaging waste


The EU rules on packaging and packaging waste cover both packaging design and packaging waste management. Their goal is to harmonise national measures, prevent production of waste and increase reuse, recycling and recovery. They also set minimum requirements packaging on the EU market must meet.

These rules date from 1994 and were modified in 2018. One of the EU’s objectives is to create a circular economy by 2050. In November 2023 the Parliament adopted its position on the European Commission’s proposal for a revision of the rules.


What does Parliament want?


MEPs want to:

  • ban the sale of very light weight plastic carrier bags
  • set specific waste reduction targets for plastic packaging
  • encourage reuse and refill options by setting specific criteria for reusable packaging and providing the possibility for consumers to bring their own container for take-away food and drinks
  • ban persistent pollutants (also known as forever chemicals) used to fireproof or waterproof food packaging that might affect our health



Next steps

Parliament is now ready to start negotiations with the Council on the final legislative text.




Read more on tackling waste in the EU

More on packaging waste and new EU rules to reduce it