Environmental labeling of packaging: everything you need to know

The theme of environmental sustainability continues to be deeply felt, also and above all when it comes to packaging: from the study by the Imagine Observatory " Product labels tell the story of Italians' consumption" it emerges that a third of all the products analyzed provide, on the label , indications that help to correctly deliver the packages , with an increase of +4.1% in the 12 months recorded.

An even more pressing issue given the recent regulatory updates.

The obligation to environmentally label packaging placed on national territory came into force on 1 January 2022, as required by Legislative Decree 116/2020.

When we talk about environmental labelling , we are referring to the application of a label on all packaging placed on the Italian market, to facilitate collection , reuse, recovery and recycling . The label provides information both on the composition of the packaging and on its correct disposal by the consumer.

In this article we want to provide you with an exhaustive guide to better understand the regulations, obligations and possible sanctions regarding environmental labelling.

The regulatory references

The main European regulation on labeling is the European Directive 94/63 EC , which, in article 8, paragraph 2 provides that: to facilitate collection, reuse, recovery and recycling, the packaging must indicate, for the purposes its identification and classification by the industry concerned, the nature of the packaging material(s) used . Annex I of the same Directive provides a numbering system for each material.

Based on this European directive, an identification system for packaging materials was established a few years later with Decision 97/129/EC .

All European laws and provisions must then be transposed by the member states : Italy has done so with Legislative Decree 116/2020, which modifies Legislative Decree 152/2006 (Environmental Code) and transposes the European directive on waste (EU 2018/851) as well as that on packaging and packaging waste (2018/852).

The provision in fact modifies paragraph 5 of article 219 of the Environmental Code , stating that: "all packaging must be appropriately labeled according to the methods established by the applicable UNI technical standards and in compliance with the decisions adopted by the European Union Commission, to facilitate the collection, reuse, recovery and recycling of packaging, as well as to give correct information to consumers on the final destination of the packaging. Producers also have the obligation to indicate, for the purposes of identifying and classifying the packaging, the nature of the packaging materials used, on the basis of Commission Decision 97/129/EC"

With the so-called milleproroghe decree (law decree no. 183 of 31 December 2020, converted into law no. 21 of 26 February 2021), the suspension of the application - until 31 December 2021 - of the first period of paragraph 5 of the 'art. 219 of legislative decree n. 152 of 2006, therefore of the first type of labelling, maintaining the obligation to affix the coding required by the European Decision to the packaging.

From 1 January 2022, all packaging must be appropriately labeled according to the methods established by the UNI technical standards.

What does this mean in practice?

Environmental labelling: what is the mandatory information?

From reading the text, the information that must be included on the label can be deduced:

  • all packaging released for consumption in Italy must include an alphanumeric coding that identifies the type of material of which it is made, following the directives of Decision 129/1997/EC
  • all packaging must be labeled in the form and in the ways that the company deems most suitable and effective for achieving the objective;
  • the packaging intended for the consumer must also contain the appropriate wording to support him in separate waste collection ;
  • for plastic packaging made with polymers or their combination not expressly provided for in Decision 97/129/EC, reference can be made to the UNI 1043-1 standards for the identification of plastic materials not covered, and to the UNI 10667-1 to identify and recognize recycled polymers.

Environmental information can be printed directly on the packaging or placed on an external support , such as a label or commercial and transport documents, without particular constraints relating to the aesthetic form.

You can choose the graphic style, shape and color that comes closest to personalized packaging , as long as the information is clear, not misleading and easily readable.

The guidelines for the environmental labeling of foods drawn up by CONAI help us to clarify some specific cases: let's now see how to manage labeling in the case of neutral or small-sized packaging and in the case of composite packaging .

Small packaging

In the guidelines we read that "the rule does not provide any exemption for small-sized packaging and/or with limited printed space, nor for multilingual ones, nor for imported ones."

However , in the case of small packaging, the operational difficulties in affixing environmental labeling are evident.

With a note dated 17 May 2021 , the Ministry of Ecological Transition clarified that " where evident physical and/or technological limits are ascertainable for the physical affixing of environmental labeling on packaging, such information can be conveyed via digital channels, websites of the company or reseller”

To allow easier consultation, it is suggested to provide clear indications on the methods through which the consumer can receive the mandatory environmental information, on the packaging or at the point of sale.

Neutral packaging

Neutral packaging refers to non-printed packaging which does not include graphics or any symbols or information.

The rule does not exclude such packaging from the obligation , but for some of these cases technological limitations have been identified which may not allow the physical affixing of environmental labeling on the packaging.

The ministry's note states that for these packages, which are mostly part of the B2B channel, the identification of the packaging composition material can be conveyed and communicated by the manufacturer on the transport documents accompanying the goods, or on other supports external, including digital.

Manually separable components and composite packaging

In the case of packaging made up of multiple materials, a main body and its components can be distinguished , distinguishing them between those that can be separated manually and those that cannot be separated .

In this case, the main body and the separable components are subject to the environmental information requirement.

If the packaging we are referring to is, for example, a bottle with cap and label , we can clearly distinguish all its parts: the bottle itself is the main body, the cap is a manually separable component and the label is non-separable.

If the packaging is made up of multiple materials ( composite ), the provisions of Annex VII must be applied, evaluating whether it exceeds 5% of the secondary material calculated on the total weight of the packaging. In this case, coding of both materials will be reported applying the European Decision.

For compostable packaging, in addition to indications of the type of material, the number of the compostability certificate and identification of the manufacturer must also be reported.

E-TICKET application

CONAI has also made operational an online tool to be able to view the information to be included in the labels of its packaging, it is called E-TICKET and allows you to create your own environmental label in compliance with current regulatory requirements.

Simply register, select the type of packaging from the different proposals in a drop-down menu, indicate the material (or materials) of which it is composed and at that point the label will be generated with all the information that must be provided to the final consumer and the alphanumeric coding.

The sanctions

The administrative sanction applicable if packaging without the requirements of article 219 paragraph 5 is placed on the internal market ranges from €5,200 to €40,000.