Finalised packaging Directive keeps incineration as 'recovery'

Incineration will, after all, be allowed to count towards the packaging recovery targets set for UK businesses and compliance schemes, following the completion of negotiations on the revision of the EU packaging Directive. The deal means that incinerator operators will be able to continue to sell packaging waste recovery notes (PRNs).

Agreement on the key issues in the revision of the packaging Directive was reached last summer, when the European Parliament effectively endorsed the recycling and recovery targets agreed by the Council of Ministers. But agreement on other issues was only reached in conciliation between the two institutions on 4 December.

  • Recycling and recovery targets: These remain as agreed last summer. Member States will have to achieve 55% recycling and 60% recovery, with material-specific recycling targets of 60% for glass and board, 50% for metals, 22.5% for plastics and 15% for wood. The targets must be reached by December 2008, with Ireland, Greece and Portugal given an extra three years. The ten countries joining the EU next year have deadlines between 2012 and 2015.

  • Role of incineration: The assumption that packaging burned in municipal waste incinerators could count towards the 60% recovery target was thrown into doubt by a ruling of the European Court of Justice in February. The court held that burning waste in dedicated incinerators should be classified as disposal (ENDS Report 341, p 54 ).

    The ruling left the UK facing the prospect of having to recycle an extra 400-500,000 tonnes of packaging on top of the extra tonnage needed to meet the 55% recycling target (ENDS Report 343, pp 41-42 ).

    However, under the final conciliation deal the Directive will state explicitly that packaging recovery includes incineration with energy recovery. The deal angered environmental groups, with the European Environmental Bureau arguing that it gives equal status to disposal, recovery and recycling as regards packaging waste.

    Although the decision means that incineration of packaging waste will continue to count as recovery, the ECJ's ruling still holds in respect of other waste legislation. This means that incineration of electrical appliances or automotive shredder residue will not count towards recovery targets set under the Directives on end-of-life vehicles and waste electrical and electronic equipment.

    The European Commission has promised that the issue will be reviewed as part of the ongoing development of the EU thematic strategy on waste prevention and recycling, due by mid-2005.

  • Waste prevention and essential requirements: In its second reading, the Parliament called for the Directive to include a requirement for Member States to implement extra waste prevention measures.

    The case for such measures will now be included in a report on the environmental and internal market implications of the Directive to be produced by the Commission by June 2005. The report will be the prelude to a more detailed review of the Directive.

    Parliament also wanted the Commission to present proposals to strengthen and complement the enforcement of the environmental packaging standards known as the "essential requirements" (see p 31 ).

    The text says the Commission will "as appropriate" present proposals to do so, and to "ensure that new packaging is put on the market only if the producer has taken all necessary measures to minimise its environmental impact without compromising the essential functions of the packaging."

    The Directive should enter into force in spring 2004 and will need to be transposed into national law by autumn 2005.

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