Euro-coalition fights for reusable packaging

Environmentalists, trades unions, bottlers join forces to influence EU directive revision

A coalition of environmental groups, trades unions and industry groups from six EU countries plus Norway today demanded the introduction of a harmonised European tax of half a euro per litre on all new drinks containers to encourage reusable packaging.

Led by the European Environmental Bureau, the "European Reuse Platform" – as the group has called itself – maintains that life-cycle analysis studies clearly show reuse systems to be environmentally superior to one-way drinks packages. But neither the 1990 packaging directive nor its 1985 predecessor law, which focused on drinks containers, have stopped a commercial trend away from reusable packaging, the coalition complains.

The European Commission is currently preparing to begin a debate on the revision of the EU's packaging directive (ENDS Daily 16 March). According to the group, there are early signs that it might propose more actions to defend existing reusable drinks systems and encourage their further development. The Platform wants to exert maximum pressure for reusable packs while the options remain relatively fluid.

On the other hand, the group describes infringement actions underway by the Commission against legal controls in Denmark and Germany that protect reusable drinks packaging systems as a serious threat that must be countered.

A vital companion to a packaging tax would be measures to encourage standardisation of packaging types, according to the Platform. Consumers would be free to choose "luxury" one-way packaged drinks if they were prepared to pay extra, Christian Hey of the EEB said today. Meanwhile the existence of a sensible number of harmonised bottle types to enable refilling anywhere in Europe would reinforce reusable systems both environmentally and economically, as a generator of regional employment.

The group's proposals are certain to attract strong opposition from the mainstream packaging industry, which is opposed to strengthening EU targets for recovery at the present time. The industry argues that the existing directive is still not being fully complied with (ENDS Daily 8 January).

Nevertheless, the Platform has assembled the largest and most varied coalition in favour of reusables to date. Members include several German organisations, including a federal union of middle-sized private breweries and groups supporting the country's quota system for refillable drinks containers, which is currently being challenged by the EU. Other members include the Italian beverage dealers' organisation Italgrob, the Norwegian Food and Allied Workers' Union and national environmental groups in Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands.

Follow Up:
EEB, tel: +32 2 289 1090.

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