Product compliance extends beyond the product itself, to the packaging materials used to protect and display the product. In this guide, we cover the essentials that all importers and exporters selling in the European Union must know about product packaging materials regulations.
What is defined as a packaging material?
Packaging materials include both product packaging used for display and customer experience purposes, as well as protective packaging materials such as export cartons. However, in this guide, we primarily focus on the former category.
Product Packaging Examples
- Watch boxes
- Cardboard boxes
- Plastic packaging
- Food and beverage packaging
Note that packaging labeling requirements depend on the product, rather than the packaging material. Various packaging labels, including CE marking and WEEE marking, are covered in this guide.
Food Contact Materials
Additional regulations apply specifically to food and beverage packaging materials.
Directive 94/62/EC on Packaging and Packaging Waste
The directive 94/62/EC covered all types of packaging placed on the EU market and all packaging waste. This directive regulates the chemicals and heavy metals present in packaging.
For example, the concentration levels of lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium are regulated as follows:
- 600 ppm by weight two years after the date referred to in the directive
- 250 ppm by weight three years after the date referred to in the directive
- 100 ppm by weight five years after the date referred to in the directive
In general, the sum of concentration levels of heavy metals present in packaging or packaging components shall not exceed 100 ppm by weight.
The directive also encourages to include information as below for the users of packaging:
- The return, collection and recovery systems available
- reuse, recovery, and recycling of packaging and packaging waste
- The meaning of markings on packaging
- Management plans for packaging and packaging waste
In summary, the packaging shall meet the essential requirements as following:
- Limit the weight and volume of packaging
- Reduce the content of hazardous substances and materials
- Reusable or recoverable packaging.
- Biodegradable packaging is highly recommended
REACH is the regulation in EU that regulate substances including chemicals, heavy metal, and pollutants for all products placed on the EU market. It also applies to the material used in packaging, for example, cardboard and paper, PE and other plastics, metal cans, and plastic bottles.
Substances fulfilling at least one or more of the criteria below are identified as “substances of very high concern”(SVHC):
- Substances classified as a carcinogenic category under Directive 67/548/EEC
- Substances classified as a mutagenic category under Directive 67/548/EEC
- Substances classified as toxic for reproduction category under Directive 67/548/EEC
- Any other substances classified as toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative
REACH is applicable to packaging materials, such as the following:
- Plastic packaging (e.g. Blister packaging)
- Paperboard packaging (e.g. Watch gift boxes)
- Wood (e.g. Jewelry boxes)
- Steel (e.g. Food storage containers)
REACH lists certain substances that may be contained in packaging materials. Here are a few examples:
- Bisphenol P (Potential use in plastics)
- Dihexyl Phthalate (Toxic for reproduction)
- Cadmium oxide (Carcinogenic)
- Lead cyanamide ( Toxic for reproduction)
- Boric oxide (Potential use in paper boxes)
- Borate flame(Potential use in paper boxes)
If the packaging material contains excessive amounts of SVHCs, it’s not legal to be imported or sold in the EU common market. Doing so may result in a heavy fine or a force-recall. Also note that REACH applies in addition to the packaging regulations, therefore, Lab testing is the only way to verify and ensure your product’s compliance.
Food Packaging Regulations
Food and beverage packaging are subject to EU food contact materials regulations. There are two main regulations that you must comply with if you import, export or manufacture food packaging materials to the EU:
- Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004
- Regulation (EC) No 2023/2006
Here we summarized some requirements under these regulations:
- Declaration of Compliance (DoC) must be provided by business operators (including importers)
- Traceability system must be established for FCMs from production to distribution
- Materials shall be labeled “for food contact” or any other symbol indication
Moreover, there are specific materials with special requirements for food contact substances. For examples:
- Plastic materials
- Active and intelligent materials
- Recycled plastic materials
- Regenerated cellulose film
For the above materials, the Doc is also required to ensure public safety. In order to provide a proper DoC and make sure there is no violation of your products, we always recommend lab testing to verify the compliance.
There is no uniform labeling standard for all packaging materials and types. Instead, the specific labeling requirements depend on the product inside the packaging.
As recommended in directive 94/62/EC, recycling symbols are now appearing on lots of products nowadays. Here are a few different types of recycling symbols:
The Green Dot
The green dot symbol indicated that the producer has made contributions to qualified national packaging recovery organization. It is not mandatory under any regulations, but to show customers that the manufacturer’s contribution to the cost of recovery and recycling.
The symbol applies to every type of products and it does not necessarily mean that the packaging is recyclable. For example, it can be applied to the packaging as below:
- Plastic wrap
- Paper bags
This symbol indicates that the packaging can be recycled. Sometimes you will see the Mobius loop with a percentage figure and that shows how much of the packaging has been manufactured from recycled materials.
This symbol applies to all recyclable packaging materials including:
- Paper and cardboard
- Bubble wrap
- Biodegradable plastic
Plastic Resin Codes
This symbol helps to identify the type of plastic resin used in the packaging. The center of the symbol will include a number that defines the resin used as follows:
- 1 – Poly(ethyleneterephthalate)
- 2 – High density polyethylene
- 3 – Poly(vinyl chloride)
- 4 – Low density polyethylene
- 5 – Polypropylene
- 6 – Polystyrene
- 7 – Other resins
These symbols apply not only on plastic products but also for the products that made of plastic resin such as:
- Plastic bottle
- Food foils
Widely Recycled Label
The widely recycled label means that the packaging is recycled by 75% or more of local authorities across the UK. Notice that the symbol often comes with the instruction above the symbol. For examples:
- Rinse, Lid on
- Flatten, Cap on
- Remove sleeve
The instruction can inform you how to recycle the material efficiently. For example, widely recycled symbol with flatten above the symbol suggests that to squash or flatten the packaging for more space in the recycling process.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was established to set standards on forest products, including wood and paper products such as furniture and product packaging.
There are three types of FSC on-product labels:
- FSC 100% (Completely from FSC-certified well-managed forests)
- FSC Recycled (all wood or paper comes from reused material)
- FSC Mix( Mix of re-used material and FSC-certified forests)
You will the FSC’s “tick tree’ logo on some paper or wood products on the market, for example:
- Beverage Packaging
- Paper bag
- Wood boxes
The CE mark is essentially indicated that product compliance with the EN standards or EC directives. In general, the CE mark shall be affixed to the product unit, user instructions, and its packaging. If the CE marking cannot be visibly, legibly, and indelibly affixed on the products, the CE marking has to be affixed to the packaging and the user manual.
Here we list some products that require CE marking:
- Medical devices
For all electrical and electronic equipment (EEE), the WEEE symbol must be printed visibly on the product. The WEEE symbol indicated that when the end-user wishes to discard this product, it must be sent to separate collection facilities for recovery and recycling.
Here are some products are within the scope of regulation.
- Washing machines
- Laptop computers
Food Contact Materials Symbol
The general principles of safety and inertness for all Food Contact Materials (FCMs) is stated in regulation EC No 1935/2004.
The food safety symbol is mandatory for products that not obviously to be used in contact with food and it indicates that the material used in the product is considered safe for food contact. As such, you don’t need this label for drinkware, cutlery or other ‘obvious’ food contact materials.
The international symbol, which is also used in the EU, for food-safe material is a wine glass and a fork symbol that you see above.
Also, to allow consumers to identify of non-edible parts, the DO NOT EAT symbol shall be labeled with the words “Do not eat’, and always where technically possible, with the symbol reproduced in Annex I in regulation (EC) No 450/2009.
Packaging Laboratory Testing
Directive 94/62/EC lab testing
The lab test is not mandatory for all product packaging. However, for food packaging or cosmetic packaging, you will need to be able to provide the DoC as mentioned in this guide. That said, lab testing is still a recommended practice for ensuring that the packaging is compliant.
Here are some laboratories for packaging materials lab test services:
- Bureau Veritas
REACH Lab testing for packaging materials
Same as the directive 94/62/EC, the third-party laboratory testing allows you to verify compliance with the requirements of REACH, but not mandatory for packaging materials. Therefore, the only way to avoid compliance issues is to get your product lab tested.
Here are some laboratory offering REACH lab testing services:
- TUV SUD