Industry rifts bring recycling legislation closer on packaging

The first deadline laid down in the Government's challenge to packaging producers and users to come up with a waste management plan has passed with no consensus in sight on how the ailing plastics and cardboard recycling industries should be supported. Retailers and paper merchants appear unlikely to agree on how cardboard recycling should be paid for, bringing the need for a legislative solution closer.

The challenge to the packaging industry was made by Environment Secretary John Gummer in July. He has asked for a credible packaging waste management plan by Christmas. But the packaging chain was also told that it had until the end of October to come up with immediate action to safeguard recycling capacity for plastics and paper board which is under threat of closure (ENDS Report 224, pp 16-19 ).

At the end of October, however, no plan was ready for submission to Mr Gummer. Instead, the deadline has been extended to 10 November when he will meet the industry to hear its response.

ENDS understands that no agreement has yet been reached on assistance for cardboard recycling, and the odds are against a solution being found by 10 November. If this proves correct, the pressure will be heavily on Mr Gummer to act on his threats. The plan due by the end of October, he said this summer, would be taken "as an indication of progress on our longer-term objectives", and legislation would follow rapidly if the industry failed to deliver.

The area of disagreement on cardboard recycling is how cash should be raised for recycling. And even if this question is resolved there would still need to be negotiations on the level of funding.

The major retailers want funds to be collected at the packer/ filler stage so that all packaging users are caught. But paper and board recyclers want the major retailers to pay for their waste to be removed on the grounds that this would be cheaper to implement. The retailers object to this approach because it would leave them bearing the lion's share of the costs of recycling, while smaller retailers and mail order firms would escape payment.

Major retailers may well be content to see this issue unresolved so that the Government is forced to introduce legislation to force all packaging users to pay their share. Another option would be to ban landfilling of recyclable transport and secondary packaging waste, which would ensure that recyclers could set adequate charges for collecting waste, according to David S Smith, a major paper recycler.

A last-minute compromise may yet be found, according to one industry representative involved in the process. This may require retailers to change their attitudes so that they no longer expect to make money from paper recycling, while the packaging industry would raise some money for recycling by means of a levy.

Agreement on plastics appears to be much closer. The industry's recycling organisation Recoup says that none of its major schemes is at risk this side of Christmas, although problems are expected thereafter (see p 14 ). It has been pushing for some time for a plastics industry levy to support the recycling infrastructure (ENDS Report 220, p 12 ). It now looks likely that the long-term packaging plan will contain provisions for this, with a levy raised at the packing stage.

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