Denmark warned again over can ban

Commission sends further notice alleging packaging discrimination as new LCA released

The European Commission has sent a further warning to Denmark over the country's ban on metal cans for beer and soft drinks, it has emerged. Delivered in late June, the "supplementary formal notice" follows an initial warning sent last year (ENDS Daily 19 March 1997) and reiterates the Commission's belief that the can ban violates the 1994 EU packaging directive.

According to a copy of the warning obtained by ENDS Daily, whereas the original formal notice responded to allegations that Denmark's can ban discriminated against imported beer and soft drinks in metal packaging, the Commission has now received a complaint that the measure also discriminates against domestic goods.

The Commission says it believes that a life-cycle assessment (LCA) of drinks packaging presented by Denmark last year showed "very small" differences between packaging types and "therefore cannot be used to justify a ban" on aluminium or steel cans.

It concedes that "harmonised standards" under the directive have yet to be drawn up. However, it says, this "does not allow member states to prevent marketing of packaging that complies with annex II of the directive," which defines essential requirements of packaging composition and nature.

It remains unclear how Denmark will respond to the letter, though official sources suggest that a new LCA on drinks packaging released on 25 June will be used to support a further defence of the can ban, following Denmark's rebuttal last year of the Commission's original formal notice (ENDS Daily 27 August 1997).

A notable innovation in the new study is that it was carried out in accordance with the ISO 14040 standard for LCAs set by the International Organisation for Standardisation. In addition, it was reviewed by five independent experts.

As with previous Danish studies, the LCA concludes that refillable glass and polyethylene teraphthalate (PET) bottles are environmentally preferable under the Danish system. Steel cans get the lowest ranking for beer packaging, though disposable PET bottles are calculated to narrowly exceed the overall environmental impacts of steel cans for soft drinks packaging.

Aluminium cans take a creditable second place, close behind refillable PET and glass. The result strengthens the possibility that Danish environment minister Svend Auken might try to placate the Commission by lifting the ban on aluminium while maintaining it on steel as he suggested last year (ENDS Daily 11 August 1997).

Nevertheless, a report in today's edition of national newspaper Berlingske Tidende suggests that broader support for the can ban appears to be slipping away. According to the newspaper, 400 of Denmark's largest grocery retailers have now installed "return vending" machines for used packaging that could with minor adjustments accept cans as well as PET and glass bottles. "The supermarkets are preparing because they expect the can ban to disappear," author of the article Janni Andreassen told ENDS Daily.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111; Danish EPA, tel: +45 32 66 01 00.

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