EU waste officials attack packaging standards

Environment directorate unit launches full-scale assault on "inadequate" CEN norms

The waste management unit of the European Commission's environment directorate has strongly criticised recently drafted European standards intended to ensure that packaging complies with EU law. In a strongly worded attack on European standardisation organisation CEN, which coordinated the initiative, the unit describes the standards as "inadequate" and unlikely to generate environmental improvements.

The waste unit's comments are contained in a report - seen by ENDS Daily - that has been circulated to EU governments ahead of a regular meeting next week to discuss packaging waste management. It is not clear whether its criticisms reflect the views of the Commission as a whole, or even of environment commissioner Margot Wallström. But if they are endorsed, it raises the possibility of the CEN standards being challenged.

This would cast a long shadow over so-called "new approach" legislation such as the 1994 packaging directive, which sets out "essential requirements" that packaging should meet while leaving technical details to be worked out through the CEN standardisation process. Another new approach environmental directive on electronic waste is currently being drafted by the Commission (ENDS Daily 2 May).

The five packaging standards criticised by the waste unit cover waste prevention, reuse, recycling, as well as waste recovery through incineration and composting. They were drawn up by CEN on a mandate from the Commission and published earlier this year (ENDS Daily 27 April). The standards are now the official point of reference for determining whether packaging meets the packaging directive's essential requirements.

According to the waste management unit, the standards are not up to the job. "The performance criteria and the examples provided in the standards are so flexible and general that it is difficult to see how [they] might introduce real change in relation to present industrial practice," it says. Moreover, "it will be impossible for enforcement authorities to verify" conformity or non-conformity with the essential requirements.

CEN has also deviated from its mandate, the unit continues. "Most of the specific requirements... are not taken into account..., too much emphasis is put... on... non-environmental functions that packaging has to comply with and the environmental side appears as marginal and left to the discretion of the supplier." In addition, it says, CEN failed to involve consumer and environmental groups in preparation of the standards, as it should have done.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, and the waste unit's comments on the CEN packaging standards.

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