European Parliament votes on packaging Directive

More than six dozen amendments to the draft EC Directive on packaging waste were voted through by the European Parliament in June. But the only significant amendment which the European Commission signalled it was prepared to accept would involve setting mandatory interim targets for recovery and recycling of packaging waste five years after the legislation enters into force. Both Parliament and the Commission rejected the idea of an overall valorisation target, encompassing all packaging waste and incineration with energy recovery as well as material recycling, which appears to be emerging as the UK's preferred option.

The proposal was announced by the European Commission last July (ENDS Report 210, p 32 ). It contains ambitious targets requiring the recovery of 90% of packaging waste, coupled with a 60% recycling rate for each packaging material, to be achieved ten years after the Directive comes into force.

On 23 June, the European Parliament voted through some 80 amendments to the proposal, despite being warned by Environment Commissioner Ioannis Paleokrassas that many of them will not be incorporated in a revised proposal by the Commission.

"The proposal is greatly needed and should be adopted by the Council as soon as possible," said Mr Paleokrassas. "It is a step in the right direction and should provide a reasonable compromise which can be accepted at this stage. Some positive ideas might find a more appropriate place at a future stage." He said the Commission was prepared to accept 28 amendments completely and 32 in part.

Of the more controversial amendments tabled before Parliament, notably by its Environment Committee, only one was accepted by both Parliament and the Commission. The draft Directive includes interim targets of 60% recovery and 40% recycling, to be achieved by a date decided by each Member State. Mr Paleokrassas accepted Parliament's proposal that these should be achieved five years after the Directive comes into force, on the grounds that "it contributes to harmonisation and provides an incentive to start important action from the outset." Industrial interests, including the European Recovery and Recycling Association (ERRA), quickly protested that the interim targets would be extremely tough.

A waste management hierarchy was put forward by Parliament. Top is prevention, followed by reuse, recycling, incineration with energy recovery, incineration without energy recovery, and finally landfill. However, the Commissioner ruled it out on the grounds that it "would clash with the necessary flexibility for Member States."

MEPs also addressed the crucial issue of markets for the materials collected under the Directive. This remains a serious criticism of the German system, under which large quantities of waste packaging have been collected only to be stored or exported due to the lack of reprocessing capacity and outlets in Germany.

To help overcome this problem, Parliament voted for binding rules on the minimum percentage of recycled material to be used in new packaging. But, to the satisfaction of ERRA and other industry groups, the Commissioner rejected this idea because "it does not seam feasible and would create major difficulties of implementation." However, the problem has been recognised and Mr Paleokrassas suggested that product specifications should be the vehicle for increasing the use of recycled material in packaging - although whether the Commission will take this idea forward in the Directive itself remains to be seen.

One of the most contentious amendments sought by the Environment Committee was a 10-year phase-out of packaging materials, and manufacturing wastes associated with them, which contain chlorine compounds - in effect PVC and chlorinated bleaching agents. The packaging industry has been in uproar over this proposal, and was relieved when Parliament rejected it. The Commissioner also argued that "it is too premature to introduce such provisions."

A proposal by the right-wing European People's Party (PPE) to replace the existing targets with a 60% "valorisation" target was rejected by both Parliament and the Commission. The PPE claimed that it would reduce the cost of implementing the Directive by 80%. This valorisation approach seems to be the preferred option of the UK Government and many industry groups (ENDS Report 220, pp 25-26 ), but its rejection by Parliament may strengthen the Commission's hand in resisting such a fundamental change to the Directive.

Another proposal not adopted by Parliament was tabled by Danish and Dutch MEPs, and would have permitted Member States to introduce national laws tougher than required by the Directive. They wanted the Directive to come under the environmental Article 130S of the EC Treaty, but Parliament voted to retain Article 100A, dealing with Single Market issues, as the legal base. Whether Article 100A absolutely precludes Member States from taking stricter measures than those laid down by EC laws has yet to be tested in the European Court of Justice, but its retention is more likely to mean that Germany's Packaging Ordinance and packaging legislation in other Member States will have to be reviewed for compatibility with the Directive.

Other important amendments rejected by the Commission would have provided for:

  • Compulsory deposits to encourage the collection of used packaging.

  • Disposal of packaging waste to be in accordance with the "proximity principle" - meaning as close to its point of origin as possible.

  • The introduction of EC standards for the transition from solvent-based to water-based coatings.

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