Radical shift in EU packaging law demanded

European industry proposes replacing recycling targets with absolute limit on landfilling

The European Commission should scrap recycling targets for packaging waste and replace them with an absolute limit on the amount of packaging going to landfill, an EU industry organisation said this week. The European Recovery and Recycling Association (Erra) said that a landfill diversion targets would contribute more to sustainability of the packaging chain than higher recycling targets.

Binding EU targets for recycling packaging waste are set in the 1994 packaging and packaging waste directive. This is due to be revised soon, with a presumption that current recycling targets for packaging waste in general and for individual materials will be raised. The Commission's environment department is currently proposing higher targets, which would cover waste reuse as well as recycling (ENDS Daily 9 July).

Rejecting this approach, Erra president Salvatore Gabola said that the Commission was concentrating too much on maximising recycling and not enough on reducing environmental impacts. The amount of waste dumped was a "better proxy" of impacts he said, and the packaging directive's current targets should be replaced with a single obligation on all EU member states to stabilise the tonnage of packaging waste going to landfill at 2001 levels.

Countries should be free to determine which waste management options were best suited to meeting the landfilling target, he said, including setting higher recycling targets if they wished. A freeze on dumping would still require "continuous improvement," he stressed, as packaging arisings were still increasing.

By removing any reference to waste treatment methods, the proposal sidesteps the charged debate over whether waste incineration with energy capture constitutes a means of disposal or recovery. The definition of "energy from waste" is being pondered by the Commission and will be crucial to states' ability to meet future waste recovery targets.

Scientific studies justify switching to a landfill limit, Erra argues. It says that research has indicated that volumes of packaging waste going to landfill do not necessarily decrease with increased recycling rates. According to a new study carried out in Sweden, every Swedish Kroner spent on compliance with packaging recycling targets has only gained five cents' worth of environmental benefit.

EU packaging industry organisation Europen yesterday welcomed the Erra proposal as a "short-term means of ensuring continued improvement of packaging waste management statistics without impeding the assessment of packaging waste recovery systems." In the long term, the organisation wants to see a more "holistic" rather than stream-based approach to waste management.

Follow Up:
Erra, tel: +32 2 772 5252.

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