European packaging regulations: are beauty brands ready?

European packaging regulations: are beauty brands ready?

The industry is heading towards a more virtuous approach to packaging spearheaded by the AGEC anti-waste law

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The AGEC anti-waste law was a pioneering step for the circular economy when proposed by France in 2020. But panelists at a dedicated session at Edition Spéciale by LUXE PACK’s 2023 show say that despite the advances, the regulatory landscape remains strewn with inconsistencies and incomprehension for luxury industry associations, brands and suppliers alike.

Packaging’s circular transition is well underway in France due to the AGEC law obliging brands and suppliers to fall in line with directives or pay a price for not doing so. However, with a near constant range of directives coming from European authorities, the industry is struggling as they work on two main fronts: eco-design to lessen a product’s impact and conformity with ordinances that are loosely defined or defined at a very late stage.

Indeed, while laws can be a catalyst for change, their practical modalities can be an obstacle. "The time it takes to adapt legislation in some cases equates to one full workday per product, which is enormous," said Stéphanie Lumbers, Sustainable Development Director at beauty industry association FEBEA, citing the article stipulating that a company launching a product that generates waste must provide explanations to the consumer on their websites regarding recyclability, recycled content, and potential for reuse. "The modalities were very slow in coming. The obligation went into effect in January 2023 for the biggest brands, yet we received the updated FAQ as the law went into effect. The text didn’t only concern packaging, but all products that generate waste, from automotive to food – categories that have little to do with one another – making the text complex to understand and to apply."

Is the beauty industry’s workforce prepared?

Coty VP of Packaging Vincent Delavenne was categorical: "Yes, we are heading towards a more virtuous approach to packaging, but the information we are asked to provide in compliance with AGEC has started a tsunami in terms of operations. We’re seeing an enormous number of changes coming that as of today we are unable to absorb and implement from an operational standpoint. Coty has 39 brands sold in 130 countries. We’d need an entire army to comply with all the regional regulations! Yet we have the size to adapt, what about smaller players, and suppliers?"

Indeed, whether French and European laws will be in conformity with international regulations is another question. "France is waking up, Europe is following suit, but what about Chinese and American laws on the horizon?" adds Delavenne. For Rachida Semail, Partner at Keller & Heckman, while France wants to play a pioneering role, "at this stage we don’t know if European regulations will be in line with French legal texts; there cannot be contradictions between the two parties, so France will have to adapt." Once the text is adopted, there will potentially be between 40 and 50 implementing acts to put the regulations into action. "The risk here is to have a sort of legal limbo and lack of clarity both from a French and a European standpoint."

New directives send contradictory messages

What impact is eco-modulation (penalizing materials perceived as environmentally harmful, while rewarding those seen as less harmful) having on product development?  "I’m not certain that it plays much of a role yet today," said Christèle Chancrin, Founder at E3 Conseil. "The issue is further confused by European directives saying that packaging weight needs to be reduced, but paradoxically, that same packaging needs to be reusable. But lightweighting tends to go against reuse. Given that transport is the biggest generator, we’re simply transferring impact from one area to another."

Collaboration, including with industry bodies, including FEBEA and Citeo in France, was identified as an essential way to understand and adapt to a constantly changing regulatory landscape. "It’s about sorting through the mass of information to know what’s relevant. That’s our role, so look out for our memos, we’re there to keep the industry informed," concluded FEBEA’s Lumbers.

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