Producer responsibility for packaging mooted

Commission waste unit relaunches efforts to revise EU's 1994 packaging directive

Packaging producers and traders operating in the EU should be required by law to pay the costs of collecting and recycling packaging waste, the waste management unit of the European Commission's environment directorate has suggested. In a discussion document produced for a meeting of national packaging waste management experts next week and seen by ENDS Daily, the unit also suggests mandatory waste prevention and packaging reuse targets.

The document lays out the unit's latest views on how to revise several aspects of the 1994 packaging waste directive. Talks on the most sensitive aspect of the revision - how high new recovery and recycling targets should be - have been delayed until two new studies are completed (ENDS Daily 7 June). In the meantime the unit says consensus should be reached on other issues.

Most notably, it has reintroduced an earlier call for introduction of EU-wide producer responsibility for packaging, an idea the unit dropped in its last set of proposals for revising the directive circulated last December (ENDS Daily 9 December).

The current directive obliges member states to set up waste collection and recycling systems but says nothing about who should fund them. Following the successful establishment of producer responsibility in the end-of-life vehicles directive, the waste unit now suggests packaging producers and traders pay "in full or in part" and that costs are relayed to consumers. This already happens in some member states, it says, though an ongoing EU study will reveal exactly how costs are currently covered.

The unit also proposes that member states should set quantitative national targets for preventing packaging waste, though it suggests no figures. It does suggest setting reuse targets from 2006 of 80% on items such as pallets and 20% on beverage packaging. The targets are realistic, it says, since rates of 90% and 40% respectively have already been reached in some areas.

In another surprise proposal, the unit says chemical feedstock recycling of plastics should now be included as a legitimate alternative to mechanical recycling. Future recycling targets could relate to the two techniques collectively or separately, it says. Last December's discussion paper said that such chemical treatment should not qualify as recycling. The change of heart will please the plastics industry, particularly in Germany, where the technique is most widespread.

Other suggestions include changes to the definition of packaging so that items such as plastic carrier bags are included, and a proposal to allow national authorities to check more easily whether packaging complies with "essential requirements" laid down in technical standards. In a separate document the unit has denounced recently finalised CEN standards as "inadequate" (ENDS Daily 26 September).

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, and the waste management unit's discussion document.

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