Guide to Packaging Compliance
Guide to Packaging Compliance and Regulations
If hearing the word “compliance” sends you into a cold sweat, you’re not alone. Our EcoAllies often ask us questions about regulations and requirements for their brand, particularly regarding sustainable packaging legislation.
The reality is that packaging compliance is complex and constantly changing. However, creating a compliance strategy for your brand doesn’t have to be stressful or overwhelming.
Many of the legislative pieces making headlines are actually in the early stages of development and don’t apply to most brands yet. This means many requirements are currently unclear and may not have even been set.
In addition, some of the more comprehensive reporting or compliance regulations will apply to only some types of business for the foreseeable future — such as large public companies. For most of our EcoAllies, it will be some time before major changes come into effect.
This doesn’t mean your brand can afford to ignore compliance completely until a future date. These changing regulations are essential, and ensuring your business complies is critical to your long-term business growth.
Summary Table of Potentially Relevant Legislation to Understand
What Legislation Should Brands Consider in Their Compliance Strategy?
Extended Producer Responsibility in the EU
The Packaging Waste Directive
Extended Producer Responsibility in the US
California Truth in Labeling
Colorado Truth in Labeling
Other Legislations that may Affect Packaging Decisions
Our primary goals for this guide are to help brands 1) take a realistic approach to compliance strategies, 2) avoid excess stress over undefined issues, and 3) understand that prioritizing sustainable practices and packaging will help set them up for success.
EcoEnclose also has comprehensive guides on Extended Producer Responsibility Legislation and Retailer Requirements. Those pieces cover a bigger picture look at trends within the world of EPR and specific requirements for selling with various states and retailers. This guide to Packaging Compliance and Regulations gives you a higher-level overview of packaging compliance and a breakdown of specific laws and guidelines that may apply to your brand. In both pieces, we offer recommendations to help you align with current requirements and position your brand for success as sustainability laws evolve. We hope these two resources, used side by side, give brands a solid foundation to refer back to as they navigate the increasingly complex landscape of EPR and compliance.
Throughout it all, EcoEnclose is here as your partner and ally. We’re happy to help you determine what compliance looks like for your business right now and what steps you may need to take in the future. So, if you have any questions or concerns about packaging compliance, please contact us anytime.
Quick check: what does your brand need to do?
For most of our EcoAllies, no immediate or pressing changes will affect their packaging and compliance strategy. Many of these legislative changes will take time to roll out. Others will only affect certain types of companies or products.
That said, there are steps we recommend all our EcoAllies take to stay ahead of future changes and avoid potential problems.
The impact of many relevant US laws are still in the future and the specifics are still unfolding. EcoEnclose is here to help you stay up to date on information you need and be well prepared for what is to come. If you’re unsure where you need to start, please reach out to us.
What legislation should brands consider in their compliance strategy?
The legal requirements for packaging, reporting, and sustainability are changing fast, making it difficult to know which rules apply to your brand. On top of that, different countries and even different states have varying requirements.
These legal requirements may include:
- Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
- Marking Requirements
- Single-Use Plastics (SUP) Use Requirements
- Plastic Taxes
- Requirements for Food Contact Materials
- Reporting Requirements
Various states have their own approach to sustainability and EPR within the United States. Within the European Union, packaging legislation differs greatly in each country in terms of rules (such as marking requirements) and in allocating responsibilities and costs (such as who pays the tax on plastics).
Despite this complex and evolving landscape, it is helpful to remember that most legislation has common points. For example, most will favor increasing recycled content, designing for recyclability, reducing source materials, and maintaining accurate supply chain records and packaging data. Your efforts today to continuously improve your packaging strategy will set you up for long-term success, regardless of whether or not your brand must comply with any regulation currently.
Below, you’ll find a breakdown of some of the packaging and sustainability legislation that may affect brands in the US, UK, and other areas around the globe.
Compliance with packaging regulations in the European Union
Extended Producer Responsibility
In the EU, product producers have some level of responsibility for minimizing, reusing, recovering, and processing packaging. A “producer” here is defined as any party who first fills the packaging with goods (i.e., a brand) or first puts filled packaging on the market (ie an importer). Producers include:
- Stationary dealers
- Marketplace merchants
- Online shop operators
- Physical shop operators
- Direct-to-consumer sellers
Most EPR laws require producers to register, pay a membership or licensing fee, and collect and report data on their packaging use and end-of-life.
However, EPR Legislation in Europe is tricky because there is no unified set of requirements for all the countries in the European Union. Brands must register in each country and may have different laws to follow.
For example, the UK has a minimum registration threshold of £2 million and 50 tons of packaging. On the other hand, Germany and France have no minimum threshold and require all producers to register.
Packaging waste is divided into three categories in the reporting process:
- Sales/Primary Packaging - Packaging that encloses the product and transfers to the customer at the point of sale
- Group/Secondary Packaging - Packaging that holds sales units together
- Transport/Tertiary Packaging - Packaging used for transporting goods
Brands selling in Europe should become familiar with the EPR requirements for all countries they sell in and ensure they register in and comply with the laws of each country.
The Packaging Waste Directive
The Packaging Waste Directive took effect in 1994 and was amended in 2005 and 2018. Updated requirements are still being rolled out through 2030.
The Directive requires Member States (countries within the EU) to put systems in place to manage the return, collection, reuse, or recovery of used packaging.
This law applies to countries within the EU and operates at a government level. As such, it doesn’t generally apply to brands directly, but governments may pass the responsibility to producers and importers through EPR legislation.
By 2024, all Member States must have EPR schemes in place.
The Waste Framework Directive
The Waste Framework Directive sets the foundation for managing waste within the EU. This directive requires governments to manage waste without:
- Harming human or environmental health
- Causing risk to air, water, soil, plants, or animals
- Disturbing the community through noise or odors
- Harming the countryside or other places of special interest
Within this Framework, waste is managed in the following hierarchy:
- Prevention (the preferred option)
- Preparing for Reuse
- Disposal (the last resort)
One key goal of the framework is to recover as much usable material as possible through methods like recycling. “End-of-Waste” criteria identify materials or components that can be recovered for future use.
While this Directive applies to governments, it also influences the EPR legislation set by each country.
The EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD)
The EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) is a legislative framework that aims to enhance EU Companies’ sustainability reporting. It will require EU brands to expand and standardize their sustainability reporting, encompassing environmental, social, and governance aspects.
This Directive emphasizes material ESG disclosures, aiming for transparency and comparability. It’s designed to align with global sustainability goals and increase transparency, making it easier for stakeholders to assess a company’s ESG.
CSRD applies to large EU and non-EU companies listed on EU markets. It also affects EU and large non-EU small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Micro-enterprises are exempted.
To qualify as a micro-enterprise, brands must meet two of the following three criteria:
- Fewer than ten employees
- Balance sheet total below EUR 2 million
- Turnover between EUR 2 million
Brands must comply with CSRD by broadening their sustainability reporting and including environmental, social, and governance factors. They must report material ESG information in a standardized format. Showing a commitment to sustainability and integrating it into packaging decisions and strategies will be critical for complying with CSRD.
EU Green Claims Directive
Proposed in 2023 and awaiting formal approval, the Green Claims Directive is the EU’s next step in combating greenwashing. This Directive empowers consumers to make more sustainable choices and prevents brands from making misleading or unsubstantiated ESG claims.
Once in place, this directive will ban several common greenwashing practices. The following are most likely to apply to packaging strategy:
Generic or vague environmental claims such as “eco-friendly,” “natural,” or “climate neutral” without substantiated proof (e.g., a life cycle assessment)
Use of offset programs alone to claim products have a neutral, limited, or positive impact on the environment
Sustainability labels not based on approved certifications established by trusted authorities such as ISO, Ecolabel, or EPD
Sustainability claims about the durability of a product under time or intensity constraints without standardized proof
Presenting goods as repairable when they are not*
* We see a gap in the current proposed legislation about misleading claims about the recyclability of packaging and products. Unfortunately, many companies label packaging in a way that makes customers overestimate the recycled content or recyclability of the material. We wouldn’t be surprised to see later addendums addressing this gap. In the meantime, brands that clearly communicate the recycled content and recyclability of their packaging will be ahead of the compliance curve.
Now that we’ve taken a deep dive into various packaging guidelines in the EU let’s go over some of the legislation to be aware of in the United States.
Compliance with packaging regulations in the United States
FTC Green Guides
The FTC Green Guides, or "Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims," are guidelines issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the U.S. They aim to prevent deceptive environmental marketing claims by businesses and empower customers to choose more sustainable products.
These guidelines establish standards for truthful and substantiated claims in areas including eco-friendliness, recyclability, energy efficiency, and more. Compliance with these guidelines is crucial to avoid deceptive advertising practices and legal action by the FTC. The guides are regularly updated to align with consumer expectations and market changes.
Brands can refer to the FTC Green Guides to ensure they align with FTC requirements. In general, ensuring that all environmental or sustainability claims are accurate and backed up by evidence will help brands stay within compliance.
SEC Proposed Rule On Carbon Emissions Disclosure
Proposed in March 2023, this potential rule from the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) would require public companies in the United States to include climate-related disclosures in their statements and reports. This includes carbon emissions and other GHG emissions.
This proposal aims to provide investors and decision-makers with more transparent, comparable information about the climate risks and sustainability progress of companies.
Under the current proposal, only large public companies would be subject to the new requirements.
There is no current date for approval or adoption of this rule. Still, brands that are likely to be affected can prepare now by ensuring they collect and maintain accurate emissions data.
Extended Producer Responsibility: Maine, Oregon, Colorado, California, and Beyond
In our Guide to EPR Legislation, we go into detail about the current and proposed legislation and trends related to sustainable packaging. One of the emerging trends in the United States is Extended Producer Responsibility Laws like those in other countries.
Like countries in the EU, each state in the US has unique rules about sustainability and corporate responsibility. Some states have little to no oversight. Others, like California, are becoming increasingly restrictive of potentially harmful practices like single-use plastics.
Four states have EPR Legislation approved and are in the early stages of implementation: Oregon, Maine, Colorado, and California. More states have EPR bills in the proposal process, and we expect to see this number expand.
It’s unclear how (or if) e-commerce packaging will be handled under these states’ EPR laws. We recommend that all brands stay up-to-date with changing EPR legislation. If laws that apply to them are passed, ensure proper registration, reporting, and payments to the correct PROs.
We also encourage all brands to take steps early by evaluating their packaging (and business practices) to identify ways to prioritize sustainability.
We will continue to update our Guide to EPR Legislation and Packaging Sustainability Requirements, so we encourage you to use it as a resource as you navigate changing guidelines.
California Truth in Labeling
This law, passed in California in 2021, aims to help consumers more easily understand what is and isn’t recyclable in the state. This will be achieved by requiring manufacturers and retailers to include accurate, easy-to-understand recycling information on their packaging — and prohibiting deceptive or inaccurate recycling labels.
CalRecycle is spearheading research to identify issues with existing recyclability labeling and information practices. Once the legislation is in place, brands making or selling products in California must ensure their packaging includes clear, accurate recycling information that complies with established standards.
Colorado Truth in Labeling
The Colorado Truth in Labeling Act was passed in May of 2023. Unlike California’s Truth in Labeling requirements, this Act mainly focuses on compostable packaging.
This law aims to help reduce contamination rates in composting facilities and empower consumers to properly dispose of products and packaging.
Under this law, any product or packaging presented as compostable must be certified by a trusted third party like BPI and clearly labeled with accurate composting information and instructions. Using words, labels, images, or other marketing or advertising to mislead customers about the product’s compostability will be prohibited.
A note about greenwashing and legislation in the United States
States and governments within the US are slowly passing more legislation to promote sustainable practices on a public and commercial basis.
However, regardless of legislation, it’s important to note that climate-related lawsuits, especially greenwashing suits, are coming up more and more frequently. The FTC is more actively enforcing its Green Guides, mentioned above, to prevent businesses from using deceptive or misleading messaging about sustainability.
These lawsuits increase the pressure on both governments and corporations to speed up the progress toward sustainability goals. So even if some of the legislation highlighted here isn’t official until 2025 or later, brands that step up and commit to transparency and sustainability now will be poised for success.
Other sustainability legislations that may affect packaging decisions
PFAS Bans are some of the fastest-growing around the country. PFAS stands for Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. These artificial chemicals are toxic to people and the planet. They are “forever chemicals” and don’t break down in the body or the environment.
Many states have already banned intentionally added PFAS in packaging materials, and more have legislation on the way. Some states also make it illegal to label anything containing PFAS as compostable or recyclable.
Even before these regulations started taking hold, we took steps to ensure that all of our packaging materials meet the highest safety standards — and are free from PFAS.
If your brand uses other packaging, confirm it is free from intentionally added PFAS. We recommend this even if you are not currently selling in an area with bans, as we expect PFAS bans to become more common as time goes on.
Some studies have concluded that PVC is the most environmentally damaging type of plastic today. Since PVC contains chlorine, it’s linked to ozone layer destruction, water contamination, human health issues, and harm to wildlife.
Because of this, some states and countries have enacted bans on PVC. With environmental and health advocates pushing to outlaw the chemical, we expect more bans to follow.
Countries that have already banned PVC include:
- The Czech Republic
- South Korea
The European Union also has a pending ban on PVC, and US cities like Rahway, NJ, and Glen Cove, NY, have banned PVC in food packaging or utensils.
For any brands still using PVC-based components in their packaging, we recommend exploring alternatives made from safer, recycled plastic or non-plastic materials like paper.
California Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Law
The state of California enacted the Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Law (RPPC) to enhance plastic waste reduction and recycling rates.
The law mandates that plastic packaging containers manufactured, imported to, or sold in the state must meet certain criteria, including containing a minimum of 25% recycled materials, being reusable, or having a 45% recycling rate. However, specific products like food, drugs, and medical devices are exempt from this law.
If selling products in rigid plastic containers in California, brands should become familiar with the criteria and ensure their products meet at least one of the minimum requirements.
Model Toxics in Packaging Legislations
The Model Toxics in Packaging Legislation, established in 1989, aimed to reduce heavy metal usage in packaging nationwide.
Currently adopted by 19 US states, including 10 in the Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse (TPCH), and 9 non-member states, it regulates intentionally introduced heavy metals and substances in packaging and components for sale.
The restricted substances encompass lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, PFAS, and ortho-phthalates, with a total concentration limit of 100 parts per million (ppm). Packaging components like blocking, closures, and coatings fall within its purview.
Importantly, TPCH mandates importers and manufacturers to furnish compliance or exemption certificates upon request, impacting companies placing products in packages.
EcoEnclose packaging solutions are free from these prohibited materials. If using other packaging materials, follow the proper steps to gain documentation related to your packaging.
California Proposition 65
California Proposition 65 rarely, if ever, applies to packaging. However, enough people asked us about this law that we wanted to address it here.
California Proposition 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enfothey 1986, requires the state to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, congenital disabilities, or other reproductive harm.
This list is updated annually and includes various chemicals commonly found in products, workplaces, and the environment. Businesses must provide a clear and reasonable warning to consumers about exposure to these listed chemicals in their products or environments.
EcoEnclose’s packaging solutions do not lead consumers to significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.
Full Material Disclosures for Plastic Manufacturers
A Full Material Disclosure (FMD) lists all of the ingredients, components, and substances in a product. The requirements of an FMD do allow for some proprietary ingredient protections. However, information about the hazards of any chemicals or ingredients must be disclosed.
Few of our EcoAllies will find FMDs relevant to their brand’s compliance strategy. Plastic manufacturers or chemical manufacturers are most likely to receive requests for FMDs. However, having complete and accurate information about the ingredients used in your packaging and products can be a helpful step for any brand.
Digital Product Passports (DPP)
Finding all the information about various products and packaging can be tedious for consumers. The Digital Product Passport Library aims to change that by creating a searchable database of product information.
DPPs are not currently required by law, and the library is still in the earlier stages of development. Creating a DPP can help your brand exchange information with partners more easily and access compliance data from one central hub.
Plastic packaging tax
In our Guide to EPR Legislation, we break down the different restrictions on plastic state by state. Since this is a rapidly evolving area, we also have an active spreadsheet that we keep up to date. We recommend that you refer to these often, especially if you plan to sell or ship to a new state.
Within the United States, many states and some cities have imposed plastic bag bans or small fees for using bags at checkout (e.g., $0.10 fee for a grocery bag). Some of these include Maine, Connecticut, New York, Boston, and Jackson Hole.
Other countries implementing plastic taxes include Colombia, Israel, the United Kingdom, and many countries within the European Union including Greece and Portugal. The type of plastic taxed, the rate of taxation, and how and by whom the fees are paid varies by country.
Note that this type of plastic tax generally affects in-person retailers and shopping centers more than online retailers or eCmmerce stores. Most plastic taxes focus on plastic bags such as single-use grocery bags over packaging like mailers.
However, we recommend that anyone shipping to places with plastic taxes use 100% recycled plastic or shift to plastic-free solutions like paper whenever possible.
Labeling and compliance
We’ve addressed some of the sustainable packaging legislation that has to do with labeling, such as compostability and recyclability labels. Some other rules or guidelines deal specifically with labeling but may not relate directly to sustainability.
One example is the FTC’s Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, which requires that all consumer commodities be labeled with the net contents, the identity of the commodity, and the name and place of business of the product’s manufacturer, packer, or distribution company.
Generally speaking, ensuring that your labeling practices are transparent, accurate, and not misleading to customers will help you stay in line with most requirements. If you’re unsure of any additional labeling laws that may apply to your business, we’d be happy to help you learn more.
How to comply with sustainable packaging requirements
Next steps for your brand
We’ve examined some packaging compliance requirements. Now, let’s look at some of the suggested next steps we recommend for brands. Wherever you’re selling and whatever your business is, taking these steps can help you feel confident about your compliance strategy and stay ahead of potential problems.
Collect and Maintain Documents and Data
PRO registration information
Data about your packaging
Bill of Materials (find ours here)
ESG and emissions data
Certifications and third party verification documentation
Set Up Reminders to Stay Up-to-Date with Legislation in Areas You Sell To
Expect to see more comprehensive sustainable packaging requirements for eCommerce and in-person sellers as time goes on
Stay current on the legislation that applies to your business by setting reminders to check in regularly
Understand Where Your Products Are Sold and at What Volumes
States you sell in
Countries you sell in
Revenue and tonnage of packaging in each location
Audit Your Current Packaging Strategy and Practices
Are you using any prohibited materials?
Are you using materials that are restricted in certain areas?
Does your packaging create excess waste?
If presented as compostable or recyclable, have you verified those claims through trusted third parties?
Are your labeling practices clear and accurate?
Determine Your Reporting Requirements
Are your revenue levels above certain thresholds?
Are you doing business in areas with EPR requirements?
Is there any pending legislation you need to watch out for?
Do you sell products that fall under more stringent requirements? (e.g., supplements or foods)
Are there bodies such as PROs that you need to join?
Implement a Long-Term Compliance Strategy
Continue working to further your sustainability goals and packaging strategy
Form relationships with relevant parties or governing bodies
Consider designating a compliance officer or team if it makes sense in your business
Consult with trusted advisors to create the best compliance strategy and governance process for your brand
EcoEnclose is here to help your brand stay on top of compliance
We’re committed to staying up-to-date with the latest sustainability requirements, packaging legislation, and compliance issues. That way, we’re prepared to help you confidently navigate the world of packaging compliance and sustainability legislation.
Our BOM shares verified information on the sustainability of our products and insight into our supply chain.
Many of our products are certified, and we can help you pursue additional certifications at the brand level.
Find individual weight information for each of our packaging solutions on all product pages.
We provide sustainability information for you to share with your customers through a QR code.
Learn more about becoming certified and preparing your thin film packaging for maximum recyclability.
Take a big-picture look at trends within the world of EPR and compliance.