The EC packaging Directive requires Member States to recover at least 50% of packaging by 2001 and to recycle at least 15% of each of the main materials. To achieve these targets, the Government calculated in 1997 that businesses obligated under the packaging regulations would have to recover 52% and recycle 16% of each material.
More recent estimates of packaging waste and the amount handled by obligated businesses show that these targets would be inadequate. In August, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) proposed revised targets requiring obligated businesses to recover 58% and recycle 18% (ENDS Report 307, p 29 ).
These were accepted as necessary in some quarters but led to an outcry by others - including the largest compliance scheme, Valpak. Instead of increasing the burden on its members, argued Valpak, the DETR should extend the obligation to smaller businesses and ensure that the environment agencies do more to catch "free riders".
Not surprisingly, the DETR has decided against increasing the workload for the agencies by broadening the obligation. There are already 5,433 registrations covering some 14,000 businesses.
However, the lobbying may have had some effect. In a parliamentary answer in November, 1 Environment Minister Michael Meacher said that, in the light of more recent data from industry, a recovery target of 56% now appears sufficient. The material-specific recycling target, however, will still be raised to 18%.
The 56% target is expected to equate to a national recovery rate of 51%. A cushion of 1%, said Mr Meacher, was prudent to provide a small safety margin to allow for error in the assessment of the additional tonnages to be brought under the regulations by 2001. It would also take account of the possibility that the tonnage reported by smaller businesses - obligated for the first time this year - may decrease in their second year of obligation. A similar reduction was reported by larger businesses in their second year.
Mr Meacher also made the point that next year's targets need to be seen as "leading on to higher targets", and need to be high enough to sustain a tighter market for packaging waste recovery notes (PRNs). He wanted to avoid a repeat of the over-supply situation which has prevailed until now.
A second change included in the draft regulations, now laid before Parliament, 2 is that compliance schemes will pay a flat registration fee of £460 per company - replacing the current system in which the fee is reduced by an "abatement factor" according to how many members a scheme has. The change is line with the DETR's earlier proposals (ENDS Report 305, pp 17-18 ).
It will ensure that the Agencies have enough cash to enforce the regulations and, said Mr Meacher, "provide for competition between schemes on the grounds of their performance and operational efficiency, rather than on the grounds of a regulatory fee differential."
This is a victory for Wastepack, which complained to the Government last year, and a setback for Valpak, whose members currently pay a registration fee half the size of others.
Further changes to the packaging regime are likely in the next year or two. Mr Meacher said he will discuss with the Advisory Committee on Packaging a number of comments made in responses to the consultation paper, and decide which need to be examined once the outcome of the EC review of the packaging Directive is completed next year.
The DETR has also published new data on packaging reported by obligated business in 2000 and the total amount of packaging waste likely to be produced in 2001 (see Table 1
). These show that if the UK is to meet the 51% recovery target it has set itself for next year, 4.75 million tonnes of packaging will have to be recovered - one million tonnes more than in 1999.
Figures have also been published on the amount of packaging recovered and recycled in the first nine months of this year (see Table 2
). Mr Meacher said these suggest that further progress towards the Directive targets will be made in 2000, but a simple pro rata extrapolation suggests the increase could be just 10,000 tonnes to 3.708 million tonnes - a rise of 0.2%.
Interestingly, the data also show - despite concern about the impact of exporting significant tonnages of plastic and glass around the world - that almost half of all exported packaging waste is steel. Almost as much scrap steel packaging is being exported as is reprocessed in the UK.