Firms face hike in packaging recovery target next year

Companies obligated under the packaging regulations face an increase in the recovery target next year from 56% to 61%, while the material-specific recycling target may be raised from 18% to 20%, according to proposals from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).1

The 1994 EU packaging Directive requires Member States to recover at least 50% of packaging by June 2001 and to recycle at least 15% of the main materials. To achieve these targets, the Government calculated that companies obligated under its packaging regulations would need to recover 56% of their packaging waste and recycle 18% of each material.

New targets to be achieved by June 2006 have yet to be finalised. However, the European Commission's Environment Directorate is proposing a 60% recycling target for total packaging, with no recovery, and separate recycling targets for individual materials. These are 70% for glass, 60% for paper, 50% for metals and 20% for plastics (ENDS Report 317, p 35 ).

The UK could well miss the 50% recovery target for 2001 (ENDS Report 317, pp 15-18 ). But the Government must establish targets for next year to set the UK on the path towards the significantly higher EU targets for 2006.

In setting the 2002 targets, the Government has to estimate the amount of packaging waste for each year between 2001 and 2006 and the amount that will be handled by obligated businesses.

Under the regulations, obligated companies must report the tonnage of packaging they expect to handle each calendar year by April of that year, but many firms submit data after the deadline. Provisional data for 2001 give a total of 7.7 million tonnes, some 400,000 tonnes below last year's total, but DEFRA estimates that the real total will be around 8.5 million tonnes.

The total amount of packaging flowing into the waste stream in 2001 is estimated at 9.3 million tonnes. The projection for 2006 is 9.9 million tonnes.

On these assumptions, the UK would have to increase the amount of packaging recycled from 3.35 million tonnes in 2000 to 5.98 million tonnes to meet the suggested 60% recycling target for 2006 (see table).

During this second phase, says the Government's Advisory Committee on Packaging, "the need to target the household waste stream will become paramount." Around 65% of the extra recycling required will have to come from the domestic dustbin, it says. The Committee has belatedly begun meeting with local authority representatives.

To meet the suggested material-specific recycling target of 20%, plastics recycling would almost have to double - from 204,000 tonnes in 2000 to 389,000 tonnes in 2006. The challenge for glass would be even tougher, with recycling needing to increase from 715,000 tonnes to 1.5 million tonnes.

Although aluminium accounts for a mere 1% of total packaging by weight, the amount recycled would need to more than treble from 16,000 tonnes to 60,000 tonnes if the suggested 50% target for "metals" was applied equally to aluminium and steel.

The consultation paper notes that if there is to be no recovery target in 2006, consideration must be given to the timing of the exclusion of energy recovery, as well as the introduction of a recycling-only target. This, it suggests, should be left for future discussion. But DEFRA is working on the assumption that the recovery target will be phased out in 2003 as part of an amendment to the regulations next year.

In addition, the introduction of material-specific targets will be addressed in a separate consultation once the Commission issues a formal proposal to revise the packaging Directive - probably this autumn.

Another factor influencing the pattern of targets is the need to maintain a market for packaging waste recovery notes (PRNs) which is sufficiently tight to ensure that reprocessors get enough PRN revenue to invest in collection schemes and price support.

Two options are put forward for 2002. The first is to raise the recovery target from 56% to 61% while maintaining the material-specific recycling target at 18%. The second also suggests a 61% recovery target, but with a 20% material-specific recycling target.

The Government prefers the latter option. Keeping the recycling target at 18% "may send the wrong signal to obligated businesses and compliance schemes," it says, and may also "have an undesirable effect on the PRN market which could cause a repeat of the difficulties already experienced when demand is low, and on the level of investment directed at developing the infrastructure."

Although a 20% recycling rate is already achieved by paper, glass and steel, a target at this level would "send the message that the recycling of each material needs to increase." The Advisory Committee has advised against setting a lower target for plastics, presumably to avoid rekindling the cross-subsidies issue. And the plastics industry itself may not relish the message such an approach would deliver about the environmental credentials of its material.

The new recovery target would deliver around 500,000 tonnes more recovery in total than in 2001. This would, in effect, be achieved entirely through recycling as the amount recovered by incineration is assumed to remain constant.

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