A voluntary commitment to increase the European recycling rate for paper and board products was announced in November by two trade bodies, the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) and the European Recovered Paper Association. CEPI opened formal negotiations with the European Commission on a voluntary agreement to increase recycling two years ago, but so far without success.
The commitment is designed to demonstrate to the Commission that the paper industry will strive to increase recycling rates. In return, the industry hopes the Commission will issue new guidance which would exempt recovered paper complying with specifications set by CEPI from the definition of "waste" under EC law. Such a change, said CEPI's recycling director, Esa Hyvärinen, could ward off any future attempts by Member States to reclassify recovered paper mills as waste treatment plants.
Paper and board consumption is expected to grow at an annual rate of 3% up to 2005, raising consumption from 79 million tonnes to 94.3 million tonnes. At this rate, achieving the target will require recycled material to increase from 38.5 million tonnes to 52.8 million tonnes - a massive hike of 37%.
The target applies to a basket of 17 west European countries as a group, rather than to each individually. This, says CEPI, is because the complex international trading patterns for recovered paper and virgin pulp, together with the location of different types of mills, produce large variations in recycling rates from one country to another and could lead to some countries being unfairly criticised.
The 56% target was set after CEPI asked national trade bodies for forecasts of paper and board consumption and waste collection, imports and exports up to 2005. The figures were then checked and aggregated by consultants.
What the UK paper industry will have to do to help meet the target is unclear because the Paper Federation of Great Britain refuses to publish its projections.
Esa Hyvärinen said that CEPI expects all 17 countries, including the UK, to increase recycling rates as far as is practically possible. He added that the collection rate in the UK - 40% in 1999 compared to an EC average of 51% and 73% in Germany - is not very high and needs to be increased.
In a misleading press statement pledging support for the target, the Paper Federation said that 65% of the raw material used in UK manufactured paper and board in 1999 was recovered material. It added that the UK paper industry reused 4.8 million tonnes of recovered paper and board in 1999, compared to 2.9 million tonnes in 1990.
What it failed to say was that the UK recycling rate for paper and board, based on material consumed in this country, is just 41%.
The Paper Federation said that the greatest potential for increasing the overall recycling rate lay in collecting more waste paper from offices and in extracting more material, such as cardboard, from the household waste stream.