The Regulation to establish the scheme was adopted 18 months ago (ENDS Report 203, pp 18-19). At the time the official goal was to launch it towards the end of 1992 with labelling criteria agreed for 10-12 product groups.
Manufacturers of these products will shortly be able to apply for the eco-label when the criteria are published in the EC's Official Journal, and it is possible that the first labelled goods will be on sale in September. Most of the main manufacturers are still keen to apply for the label despite some press reports to the contrary, according to the UK Eco-labelling Board.
Despite the relief that the scheme is now up and running, the UKEB and the Department of the Environment have criticised their EC counterparts for the slow progress and lack of cooperation between Member States and the European Commission.
The UK, said Dr Elizabeth Nelson, Chairman of UKEB, "has put a lot of time, energy and money into developing the scheme. Unfortunately this effort is not being matched by other Member States. And the procedures in Brussels are too prone to uncertainty and delay."
Only half the Member States have established competent bodies, although the EC Regulation required them to do so by last September. Manufacturers in those countries will therefore be unable to apply for an eco-label. Some Member States have also been slow in drawing up criteria for product groups they agreed to take on.
Dr Nelson also spoke out against the Commission, alleging that it has failed to give the scheme direction and adequate resources. For example, Brussels has not yet made any money available to pay a life-cycle analysis expert to draw up guidelines for cradle-to-grave studies, which should provide the basis for labelling criteria. "The work should have been done months ago," she said.
The scheme has also been criticised by industry and environmental groups. Industry has generally complained that most of the proposed product criteria are too stringent, while environmental groups have claimed they are too lax. Trade groups and manufacturers of light bulbs, hairsprays and tissue, kitchen and copying paper have all threatened not to participate in the scheme. Environmentalists are annoyed that they have not been consulted although, at least in the UK, the UKEB says it has invited environmental groups without success to working group meetings.
Meanwhile, progress on developing labelling criteria for other products has hit several barriers. Some of these were outlined in April (ENDS Report 219, p 26 ). However, criteria for light bulbs, toilet and kitchen paper and hairsprays could be considered by the EC Regulatory Committee - the final hurdle - on 23 July, although objections raised by the Consultative Forum may hold up an agreement on the criteria for hairsprays (ENDS Report 220, p 21 ) and lightbulbs. Draft criteria for kitchen and toilet paper also faced criticism from the Consultative Forum. Progress on some of the other products is outlined below:
However, no further work is being undertaken on growing media in the hope that an EC-wide agreement on the less controversial criteria for soil improvers will pave the way to an agreement on the former.
The UKEB intends to give the scheme a more high-profile launch when the first eco-labelled products reach the shelves this autumn. Its £250,000 advertising campaign, possibly backed by EC money, will be focussed on national newspapers and women's and trade magazines. But most of the publicity, the UKEB hopes, will come from manufacturers pushing eco-labelled products.