How the EU’s Packaging Regulations Will Drive a Sustainable Packaging Revolution

April 25, 2024

New mandates demand that brands innovate to reduce plastics, waste to landfill

How the EU’s Packaging Regulations Will Drive a Sustainable Packaging Revolution

Europe’s consumers are about to see a revolution in everyday products on store shelves throughout the region. New rules to reduce waste, laid out in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), will go into effect over the next several years in the European Union. By setting out clear targets on recyclability and minimizing material use – as well as restricting single-use plastics in more places – the regulation is a call to action for the packaging industry to step up.

These mandates are a catalyst for innovation. As the EU often sets the tone in environmental standards, the new measures are poised to reshape the packaging industry globally. Adopting them will reduce waste sent to landfills or incinerated, while increasing access to recyclable packaging.

Over the past five years, Graphic Packaging has been advancing our innovation capability, creative design, and material science to develop packaging that is better for the planet. With the passage of these regulations, we can help even more consumer brands transition from plastic to paperboard packaging, which is made primarily from renewable or recycled materials.

Three regulatory drivers for paperboard adoption

Paperboard has had the most substantial overall growth of any packaging material in recent years, according to a Smithers industry report (2023). This growth can be attributed largely to consumers’ increasing preference for packaging with a responsible end-of-life.

With some EU regulations expected to see enforcement as early as 2025, we see three immediate drivers for paperboard, as brands shift away from single-use plastic:

  • Restrictions on single-use plastic “grouped packaging” will drive a transition to paperboard alternatives as retailers look to avoid selling single cans and bottles.
  • The restriction on single-use plastic packaging for certain unprocessed fresh fruit and vegetables will drive companies to replace existing plastic bags and containers with paperboard alternatives.
  • Restrictions on certain single-use plastic packaging in restaurants, hotels, and cafes could drive a range of paperboard-based alternatives also in line with existing measures from the single-use plastic directive (SUPD).
Innovations poised to meet EU regulations

Investing in technology and specialized talent, Graphic Packaging has grown its innovation capability to encompass eight Innovation Hubs and 120 employees, delivering around 3,000 patents. Below are a few examples of innovations that can help brands meet EU regulatory standards.

KeelClip™ Clip-Style Multipack Folding Carton for Cans

KeelClip™ was launched in 2020 in partnership with The Coca-Cola Company. It replaces plastic rings and shrink wrap on multipacks of canned beverages while minimizing material use to meet the function versus fully enclosed cartons. KeelClip was first launched in Europe, and Coca-Cola is now replacing its plastic wrap on multipacks of cans with paperboard across the EU. It’s a growing packaging alternative in the U.S., as well.


PaperSeal™ is a paperboard tray for chilled meat and fish, salads, and pasta that reduces plastic use by 80-90 percent. It is an alternative to traditional plastic trays for modified atmosphere and vacuum skin packaging applications that has gotten strong traction in Europe and growing interest in the US.

A view of all PaperSeal trays
Boardio™ Fiber-Based Canister Packaging

Boardio™ is a rigid paperboard canister that can be used for dry mixes, coffee, confectionery, nutrition powders, and more, and replaces plastic tubs and stand-up pouches. This solution has been adopted by several brands in both Europe and North America, with growing momentum as regulations and consumer sentiment evolve.


CleanClose™ is our child-proof paperboard carton for laundry detergent pods that is an alternative to rigid plastic containers. CleanClose has been in the European market since 2022 and is expected to be introduced in the U.S. market this year.

Our child-resistant packaging features offer protection where needed while still being intuitive and easy for users not at risk of harm to open.
ProducePack™ Punnet Fiber-Based Top-Sealed Produce Packaging
ProducePack™ Synergy Punnet Tray

The ProducePack™ Synergy punnet tray is a paperboard tray for cherry tomatoes, berries, mushrooms, and more, which replaces single-use plastic trays. This solution was designed to ease the transition from plastics by removing the need for brands to invest in machinery or tools.

Synergy punnet trays are now entering the European retail market.

Tips for consumer brands to prepare
  • Understand the regulation. Engage the necessary expertise to properly understand the regulation and what it means for your business.
  • Engage top management. Innovation happens fast, but operational transformations take time and commitment. Multinationals are having to rethink their processes to meet these new standards in time, and top management should be involved in the innovation process from an early stage.
  • Choose a partner, not a supplier. In a complex, regulation-driven environment like packaging, you need an experienced partner with a track record of helping brands transition to sustainable packaging at scale. This partner should be at the table with management to co-design your packaging roadmap.

Policymakers have put in a lot of work to get the EU packaging regulations to the finish line. It is now up to the packaging industry to step up and deliver on the promise of less waste for a healthier planet.