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Call for 'level playing field' for EU packaging recycling

A packaging sector trade body has called for a level playing field on recycling targets for EU member states across European Commission legislation.

Packaging Society chairman Tony Hancock said that recycling targets could be made more meaningful if the Packaging Waste Directive was updated “to ensure that all member states are using the same interpretation”.

His recommendation came in response to a European Commission consultation on waste management targets within the EU, which was opened in June and continues until 10 September.

The review considers the adequacy of the targets included in the Waste Framework Directive, the Landfill Directive and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, and also looks at the introduction of targets for waste prevention and reuse.

But Hancock said the first priority should be levelling the interpretation of the Packaging Waste Directive “before any increase in the current targets are agreed and implemented”.

The main issues with interpretation of the directive are, according to the society:

  • Three different methods recognised by the Commission for calculating the amount of packaging placed on the market.
  • The point at which materials are considered to have been recycled varies between member states; for example some use the quantity reprocessed while others use the quantity collected.
  • It is difficult to report the amount of materials exported that are actually recycled. The society recommends setting up internal monitoring within the EU and discounting what is exported outside the EU from EU recycling targets.
  • The definition of ‘recycling’ blurs into ‘recovery’ in some member states. The directive needs to make it clearer that recycling excludes energy recovery.

There are several parts of the directive that are not enforced or developed properly, Hancock added. The heavy reliance on exporting materials for recycling outside the EU was “evidence that little or no action” on creating end user markets for recycled packaging waste had taken place. Another concern was the lack of a mandatory, comprehensive system for marking packaging for recycling.

Hancock said that most member states ignored the requirement to enforce the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations, which are a part of the directive designed to minimise packaging going to landfill. Only the UK has prosecuted companies that contravened the regulations and, even then, “these have been very weak cases… and were only successful because the defendents pleaded guilty”, he said.

However, Simon Ellin, the chief executive of the Recycling Association told MRW that while he agrees with most of what The Packaging Society has highlighted, he strongly disagrees with their suggestion to discount all materials exported outside the EU.

He said: “To preclude material that is exported and re-processed outside the EU, to countries where it is produced in the first place, is wrong and potentially catastrophic for the global sustainability of our industry – we would strongly fight against this.”

“Let’s not over complicate what is, in fact, a simple system,” Ellin said, “I see no problem in using the amount of material that is collected as opposed to reprocessed for statistical purposes. This is the most easy, un-complicated and cost-effective way of gathering data.

“If you want to be absolutely pedantic, then use a standard average for outthrow across the globe eg 10%. This will then ensure that all global markets are included in the marketplace and will prevent damaging market distortions,” he added.

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