Danes in talks with Commission over can ban

Environment minister signals intention to fight for right to maintain ban on cans

Danish officials are due to meet European Commission representatives within days to discuss the environmental grounds for the country's ban on the use of disposable drinks cans. Environment minister Svend Auken revealed news of the talks to the parliament on Friday as he prepares to respond to the Commission's threat of legal action over the ban.

Mr Auken was requested to make a statement to the parliament's environment and planning committee on Friday amidst mounting criticism of his handling of the issue. In particular, parliamentarians complained that they had not been informed of the contents of a "letter of formal notice" sent by the Commission as a first step towards legal action (ENDS Daily 21 July). The government has to respond to the letter by 1 September.

Mr Auken told the committee that he had requested talks with the Commission about the environmental aspects of the ban as these had not been addressed in its letter. He said the Commission had agreed to the talks.

In a strong signal that he intends to mount a vigorous defence of the ban, he also told the committee that he was convinced that: "We in Denmark have the world's best returnable bottle system, which has a 99% rate of return. I have not yet seen any conclusive environmentally relevant arguments to destroy this effective and well-functioning system."

However, speaking on Danish radio on Friday, Mr Auken conceded that he might consider introducing a new deposit-return system for aluminium cans to complement existing systems for glass and plastic bottles. But he said he would wait until he had received the results of a new life cycle assessment (LCA) study on the different packaging types.

According to an environment ministry source, the new LCA was commissioned following complaints that a 1993 LCA, which formed the basis of packaging legislation, was based on "old fashioned" data. Right-wing Danish political parties have also complained publicly in the past few weeks that the last LCA results were too ambiguous to justify the ban on cans. The results of the new LCA were expected by this month, but the ministry predicts that they will not now be available until January.

A senior official in the Environmental Protection Agency told ENDS Daily that the government is likely to consider establishing a new deposit-return system for aluminium cans if the new LCA shows this to be as environmentally friendly as for bottles. But, he said, steel cans, which were found to have the worst environmental impact in a 1993 LCA, would probably still be excluded.

Follow Up:
Danish environment ministry , tel: +45 33 92 76 00; Danish environmental protection agency , tel: +45 32 66 0100.

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