Criteria for plastic packaging

Promoting a circular economy for packaging based on the learning of the New Plastics Economy experience

In a circular economy plastic packaging is designed to never become waste. Addressing the root cause of plastic pollution, city governments can deliver economic, environmental and societal benefits by leveraging public procurement strategies. By applying circular economy principles when selecting packaging and packaging materials, cities can look at eliminating the plastic items that are problematic or unnecessary in the first place; secondly, cities can facilitate the adoption of innovative reusable solutions (through reuse, refill and return models); and lastly, make sure that the plastic that is being used is actually circulated (eg. through recycling or composting) and not sent to landfill, burnt or lost to the environment. Furthermore, in order to decouple plastic use from the consumption of finite resources, it is essential to promote the use of recycled content (where legally and technically possible) and to shift the remaining virgin plastic input (if any) to renewable feedstocks.

Questions to consider:

  • Can you avoid the procurement of: + Unnecessary packaging? + Packaging that has a high likelihood of being littered or ending up in the natural environment? + Packaging that may hinder or disrupt recycling of other plastics or materials? + Packaging that contains hazardous chemicals? + Packaging that is not reusable or recyclable?

  • Can you procure: + Solutions with new delivery models (e.g. refill, reuse, or returnable models)? + Packaging made out of recycled content to reduce the need for further virgin material? + Packaging made out of renewable feedstock (e.g. seaweed and other plant derived materials) to reduce reliance on fossil fuel derived plastics?


1) To reduce the consumption of single-use plastics, the City of Oslo has mapped all purchases of plastic products across the municipality. In procurement agreements of medical supplies, the city has decided to replace plastic cotton swabs with ones made out of paper.

2) In 2016, the City of Hamburg banned the municipal use of single-use items such as plastic coffee capsules, bottles, and utensils. The cafeterias of the public administration and police academy are now using reusable cups. This public procurement decision has helped to prevent the use of up to 675,000 single-use cups each year.

3) The charter of eco-responsible events encourages organisers of events taking place in Paris to adopt practices that limit waste and negative environmental impacts. The charter promotes the use of recyclable packaging and reusable cups and cutlery. The City of Paris has the ambition of organising the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics as an event free of single-use plastics.

4) In the Danish municipality of Lolland, recycling and recyclability criteria for packaging have been included in their tender for cleaning services: 75% of material used for bags must be recycled or biodegradable; non-reusable packaging must be easy to separate into single material types; mono materials are to be used if possible; only recyclable materials must be used; and use of dark colours must be avoided.


  • The Upstream Innovation Guide by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is packed with practical guidance and real-world examples, this handbook has been designed for anyone directly or indirectly influencing the packaging that is put around a product.

  • The Reuse - Rethinking Packaging guide by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation provides a framework to understand reuse models, identifies six major benefits, and maps 69 reuse examples.

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