The EU Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste was amended in February 2013. Whilst the definition of packaging is informative, the latest amendment provides detailed illustrative examples of elements that can be defined as packaging, part of packaging and non-packaging.

For every manufacturer in every industry, packaging plays an essential role. From the simple promotion of the product to its protection and transport, from textiles to delivery pallets, packaging can be found everywhere and has a wide range of usage. The afterlife of packaging, either as waste or recycling, is also an issue; and with every environmental and health issue comes a comprehensive set of national and international regulations and standards.

EU Directives on Packaging and Packaging Waste

In December 1994, the European Union (EU) adopted Directive 94/62/EC on ‘Packaging and Packaging Waste’. The directive was published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) on 31 December 1994 and went into effect on 30 June 1996. The EU directive covers all packaging, including those designed for commercial, industrial and domestic purposes, regardless of the material used for the containment, handling, delivery and presentation of goods, from raw materials to processed goods, from the producer to the user or the consumer.

Essential requirements are defined under EU Directive 94/62/EC. First, the packaging weight and volume must be minimal in order to maintain the safety, hygiene and acceptance of the packaged product. Then, the packaging must also be manufactured in such a way as to enable its reuse or recovery, including recycling, and also in a manner that minimizes the presence of hazardous substances in emissions, ash or leachate when incinerated or landfilled.

Packaging and its waste management are therefore complex and need to be precisely defined. That is why, for reasons of legal certainty as well as matters of harmonization of the definition and interpretation of ‘packaging’, the EU Directive 94/62/EC was recently replaced in February 2013 by the Directive 2013/2/EU. The latter is therefore more detailed as it provides illustrative examples of components that are packaging, part of packaging and non-packaging (see Table 1 below) — a more precise list for what had remained unclear until now.

The directive also established a limit of 100 ppm for the sum of the concentration levels of lead, cadmium, mercury and chromium (VI) present in packaging or packaging components and laid out the criteria for the definition of ‘packaging’. The three groups of packaging defined in Directive 94/62/EC remain the same:

  • Sales packaging or primary packaging.
  • Grouped packaging or secondary packaging.
  • Transport packaging or tertiary packaging.

Packaging and Waste Regulation: an Issue of Health and Sustainability

During transport packaging needs to perform well. As for packaging material, its physical performance as well as chemical properties have to be compliant with a series of regulations and standards regarding customers’ health as well as sustainability and other environmentally friendly criteria.  The European Union REACH regulation covers the general registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemicals in consumer products manufactured or imported within the EU zone and entered into force in June 2007. This chemical regulation naturally also applies to packaging. Not only does this regulation require manufacturers and importers to provide safety information on every chemical substance used in the products, but it also controls and sets the level of all chemicals.

Packaging such as plastic wrap or a carton can contain a substance, a mixture or an article. Under REACH, the packaging is considered as a separate article from the substance, mixture or article that it contains and must comply with the requirements for articles, including substances of very high concern (SVHCs) from the Candidate List. Packaging with different functions (primary, secondary or tertiary) is also considered separately. For example, for an article wrapped in plastic (primary packaging) and then packed into a carton box (secondary packaging), both plastic and carton box are considered as separate articles.

Directive 2013/2/EU and the REACH regulation are both intended to improve the protection of human safety as well as the environment by limiting contact with dangerous or hazardous substances with the skin or the mouth as well as the risk of polluting natural environments. Whether food, cosmetic products or toys, packaging needs to be strictly regulated to avoid the transfer of chemicals and toxic substances from the package to the product or, worse, to the consumer.

Harmonization of Local Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulations

With increased environmental and health concerns as well as ever growing worldwide imports and exports, local and national packaging regulations such as the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations in the United Kingdom or the US Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Fair Packaging and Labeling Act tend to harmonize in order to ensure worldwide compliance and facilitate the manufacturers’ attempts to provide products that conform to every market.

For manufacturers and importers, it is not yet sufficient to comply with the ‘Packaging and Packaging Waste’ Directive in order to import their products into Europe. Yet all regulations, standards and directives have the tendency to merge or converge in terms of norms and authorized levels in order to facilitate the compliance process.  As for the EU more specifically, the upcoming Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) regulatory approaches on sustainable and environmental packaging might soon be a new compliance issue for European manufacturers in every industry.

How can SGS Help?

SGS’s 7 Paper and Packaging laboratories located in the US and Asia can provide a wide range of paper and packaging testing services.  All laboratories are accredited to ISO/IEC Standard 17025 and are ISTA, NMFC and UN/DOT Third Party Certified to conduct Distribution Performance Tests on filled packages and Physical Characteristics Tests on packaging materials and components in accordance with ISTA, ASTM, NMFC, TAPPI and UN/ DOT testing procedures and methods.  Our technical expertise in vibration, shock, stacking & compression and environmental conditioning capabilities as well as sustainability, chemical, biodegradability, life-cycle assessment, carbon footprint and eco-labelling capabilities are greatly reinforced and supported by engineers, chemists, biologists and ISTA certified laboratory technicians and technologists.

For more information on SGS services visit our Packaging and Paper web page.

Table 1. Packaging Examples



Sales packing or primary packaging

Packaging – examples

  • Beverage system capsules (e.g. coffee, milk) which are left empty after use
  • Cake doilies sold with a cake
  • CD spindles (sold with CDs, not intended to be used as storage)
  • Clothes hangers (sold with a clothing item)
  • Film overwrap around a CD case
  • Flower pots intended to be used only for the selling and transporting of plants and not intended to stay with the plant throughout its lifetime
  • Mailing pouches for catalogues and magazines (with a magazine inside)
  • Matchboxes
  • Sweets boxes

Non-packaging - examples

  • Beverage system coffee capsues, coffee foil pouches, and filter paper coffee pods disposed together with the used coffee product
  • CD, DVD and video cases (sold together with a CD, DVD or video inside)
  • CD spindles (sold empty, intended to be used as storage)
  • Clothes hangers (sold separately)
  • Flower pots intended to stay with the plant throughout its lifetime
  • Mechanical quern (integrated in a fillable recipient, e.g. refillable pepper mill)
  • Tea bags
  • Tool boxes
Grouped packaging or secondary

Packaging, if designed and intended to be filled at the point of sale - examples

  • Aluminium foil
  • Cling film
  • Disposable plates and cups
  • Paper or plastic carrier bags
  • Plastic foil for cleaned clothes in laundries
  • Sandwich bags

 Non-Packaging examples

  • Cake doilies sold without a cake
  • Disposable Cutlery
  • Paper baking cases (sold empty)
  • Wrapping paper (sold separately)
Transport packaging or tertiary packaging

Packaging example

  • Labels hung directly on or attached to a product
  • Part of packaging - examples
  • Device for measuring dosage which forms part of the
  • container closure for detergents
  • Mascara brush which forms part of the container closure
  • Mechanical quern (integrated in a non-fillable recipient, filled with a product, e.g. pepper mill filled with pepper)
  • Plastic sleeves
  • Staples
  • Sticky labels attached to another packaging item

Non-packaging - example

  • Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags
For further information, please contact:
Hing Wo Tsang
Information and Innovation Manager
SGS Hong Kong Ltd.
t: +852 2774 7420