Brussels revises packaging proposal

A revised draft of the proposed EC Directive on packaging has been drawn up by the European Commission. The new version incorporates some of the amendments proposed by the European Parliament - the most important of which is a firm deadline for Member States to meet intermediate targets for recovery and recycling of packaging waste.

The packaging Directive has been made a priority by the current Belgian Presidency of the EC Council.

In June, the European Parliament voted through some 80 amendments to the Commission's original proposal. However, Environment Commissioner Ioannis Paleokrassas signalled at the time that he would be prepared to accept only a small number of these (ENDS Report 221, pp 42-43 ), and the revised draft which has now emerged contains no surprises.

The only substantial Parliament amendment to get through is a proposed deadline of five years after the legislation enters into force for Member States to meet the intermediate targets of 60% "recovery" and 40% "recycling" of packaging waste. The deadline was inserted, the Commission says, in order "to contribute to harmonisation and to provide an incentive to start important action from the outset." This clause, like the clause dealing with the ultimate recovery and recycling targets, also makes it plain that packaging waste collected for recycling must in fact be recycled - closing a loophole in the previous draft.

However, the strict waste management hierarchy advocated by the Parliament has been rejected because, according to the Commission, there is a need to be "flexible in order to apply the most appropriate measures for the different particular conditions" and "preserve the principle of conditional equivalence between reusable and recoverable packaging." But the new draft goes on to stipulate that a life-cycle assessment should be conducted as soon as possible to justify a clear hierarchy between reusable, recyclable and recoverable packaging.

The Commission has also decided not to accept Parliament's demand for a minimum recycled content in packaging in order to increase markets for the collected waste. It believes that the move would be "premature and would cause major implementation and control problems."

Instead, an existing clause on packaging standardisation has been amended. It now provides for the Commission to promote product specifications for the use of "and when appropriate minimum content level for" recycled materials. In addition, Member States would be placed under a general duty to promote the use of recycled packaging waste.

Several amendments proposed by the European Parliament on economic instruments have not been accepted either because the Commission considered them to be premature or because they related to charges for incineration and landfill in general. However, the Commission has reinforced an existing clause on economic instruments by making an explicit reference to the need to avoid distortions of competition and obstacles to trade when such instruments are introduced by Member States, and by requiring them to observe the criteria of "causality, proportionality, non-discrimination as well as compatibility with other tax obligations" when doing so. Any economic instrument would also have to take into account the "polluter pays" principle.

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