New plan for EU packaging law revision

Commission proposes material-specific targets, exclusion of plastic feedstock recycling

The European Commission's environment directorate has circulated new proposals for revising the EU's 1994 packaging directive. Main changes from a previous version circulated in June include an overall recycling target of 60% by 2006 rather than 75%, and differentiated targets for recycling different packaging materials.

The plan also includes a proposal to exclude plastics feedstock recycling from the directive's definition of recycling. Earlier ideas of changing the directive's recycling target to one for recycling and reuse, as well as a plan to impose producer responsibility on packaging manufacturers, have been dropped.

As with the June proposal (ENDS Daily 28 June), the new plan retains the central thrust that EU countries should recycle more packaging by 2006 than they must do by mid-2001 under the existing directive. Also retained is a proposal to delete existing recovery targets. The report claims that this encourages incineration, which is an worse environmental option overall than mechanical recycling.

The plan includes a new mechanism for "fixing empirically" higher recycling targets for 2006 by taking the average of the top five results achieved by member states in 1997. This results in a figure of 60%. Acknowledging that different success rates have been achieved with different packaging materials, the plan proposes to set 2006 targets of: 75% for glass, 65% for paper and cardboard, 55% for metals and 20% for plastics, all measured by weight.

An element likely to prove controversial with Europe's plastic industry is a proposal that feedstock, or chemical, recycling of plastics should not be allowed to contribute towards meeting the targets. "Recycling" should be re-defined explicitly as "mechanical recycling" to exclude pyrolysis, gasification or the use of plastics as reduction agents in blast furnaces, the document says.

The directorate also includes an alternative approach to setting recycling targets, but makes clear that this is not favoured. The recovery target would be maintained and increased from 50% to 90% while recycling targets would be set at 60% for each specific material. The documents then claims that plastics could not easily reach this target, while the high recovery target would potentially "force" EU member states to build energy recovery plants. "This would undermine the efforts made in terms of resource management through waste prevention and minimisation," it concludes.

Follow Up:
European Commission DG environment, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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