Talks begin on new EU ecolabel candidates

Commission working groups discuss environmental criteria for batteries, rubbish bags

The European Commission is likely to propose environmental criteria for seven new product groups under the EU ecolabel scheme this autumn. If all of them are eventually adopted, the scheme's scope will be nearly doubled.

Since the EU scheme started in 1992, criteria have been agreed for only nine product groups and ecolabels awarded to 26 products. The European Commission is currently reviewing the scheme's operation, amidst criticism from some industry groups (ENDS Daily 7 April).

EU working groups last week discussed environmental criteria for rubbish bags, batteries, shampoos, converted paper products, dishwasher detergents, sanitary and floor cleaning products, and cat litter. Consultancy reports were discussed for batteries and rubbish bags, copies of which have been obtained by ENDS Daily.

In a report on batteries, the Heidelberg-based Institut f├╝r ├ľkologische Wirtschaftsforschung says that content of hazardous substances should be the key criterion, followed by material consumption and energy efficiency.

The consultancy suggests setting separate ecolabel criteria for round and "button" batteries. It proposes following the example of the Nordic White Swan by setting fixed limit values for heavy metal content, plus limits on the ratio between total heavy metal content and the operating lifetime of the battery.

Another working group discussed a report on paper and plastic rubbish bags, prepared by London-based consultancy Chem Systems. The consultancy finds that recycled paper sacks have a greater environmental impact than virgin paper sacks. It says that most virgin paper sacks are made in Scandinavian countries, in manufacturing processes based mainly on renewable energy, whereas most European paper recycling consumes fossil fuels.

The report says that the environmental impact of recycled plastic is slightly lower than virgin high-density polyethylene weight for weight. However, it says that recycled bags have greater impacts because more plastic is needed to make a bag of the same strength.

Chem Systems proposes limiting the mass of material for various sizes of plastic and paper sacks, based on their volume. Use of recycled plastic would be encouraged by discounting its weight against that of virgin polymer. But use of recycled paper fibre would be discouraged by allotting it a "heavier weight" than that for virgin pulp.

The report suggests setting separate criteria for polyethylene and paper bags, but the plastic industry will be delighted by its conclusion that the environmental impact of paper sacks "tend to be equal or greater to" those of plastic refuse sacks.

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