The EC eco-labelling scheme was a response to the prospect of a proliferation of national environmental labelling initiatives within the Community. The Germans led the way with their "Blue Angel" scheme, but several other Member States were eager to join them in order to help the growing numbers of green consumers confused by manufacturers' environmental claims.
Since the late 1980s, when the EC eco-labelling scheme was conceived, the French, Spanish and Dutch have launched their own schemes. They are aiming to run these in parallel with the EC's by setting criteria either for products or for environmental impacts not covered by the latter. Alternatively, the criteria may be replaced when the EC's have been finalised.
In September 1990, the UK Government also promised to take steps to introduce a national environmental labelling scheme if consensus was not reached at EC level within an acceptable time. The EC scheme was eventually adopted, albeit a year or so later than originally expected. Now it is the prolonged delays in agreeing product criteria (see above) which are causing concern to the Government and the UK Eco-labelling Board. The result has been that consumers are still facing a barrage of manufacturers' claims without any official counterweight.
The Dutch, on the other hand, have acted. Stichting Milieukeur, the Dutch Eco-labelling Organisation, set criteria for writing paper in March 1993 and awarded the first label in September for a pad produced by the Dutch Purchasing Centre. It has also set criteria for paints, lightbulbs, shower heads and automatic coffee makers, and is drawing up others for:
The writing paper criteria are much more stringent than those being proposed at EC level - more alone the lines of the standards set in the Blue Angel scheme.
For a start, paper containing any virgin fibre is ruled out. All the fibres must originate from scrap, with no less than 50% coming from medium and low-grade sources.
The reasoning behind this is that the label could help to provide a spur for waste paper recovery by creating markets. In addition, paper made from scrap gives rise to fewer discharges on average than other types of paper, according to Dutch studies on the "cradle to grave" environmental impacts of paper manufacture.
The criteria for chemical oxygen demand (COD) and organo-chlorine (AOX) releases to water and for emissions of SO2 and CO2 to atmosphere have therefore been set so that only paper made in recycling plants "which cause least harm to the environment" qualify for the Dutch eco-label. Unlike the EC criteria, there are no standards for production waste and energy consumption.
The criteria also seek to encourage products in which both sides of the paper can be used, as well as the use of packaging made from recycled materials.