EC eco-label criteria proposed for paper products

Guideline criteria for awarding eco-labels to paper products under the new EC eco-labelling scheme have been proposed by a Danish-led official working group.1 The group also drew up a more precise grading system for xerographic copying paper and kitchen towels, but key decisions still remain to be taken before these products can come under the scheme.

The study was conducted by the Danish authorities in collaboration with German, Spanish and UK officials and industry representatives. It was one of five initiated by the European Commission to develop methodologies for setting eco-labelling criteria in preparation for the introduction of the EC eco-labelling scheme, which was agreed in December (ENDS Report 203, pp 18-19). Some of the paper report's conclusions are likely to be highly controversial.

The group decided to limit the eco-labelling parameters to those which were environmentally significant and readily quantifiable (ENDS Report 200, pp 25-26). A joint hurdle and points judging system was advocated.

Three hurdles would have to be cleared by any paper product. "Modern" forestry principles - defined somewhat simply to mean those which result in no net reduction in the volume of growing wood - would have to be applied. Other environmental aspects of forest management should be ignored because they are "too variable from location to location," the report says.

Secondly, all manufacturing operations would have to comply with local regulations. And lastly, the product should not contain substances in amounts exceeding any national legal limits.

Specific criteria for energy and natural resource consumption and emissions, the report says, are preferable to a points system. The criterion for natural resources - specifically the use of waste paper - could be combined with the criterion for energy because making paper products from recycled fibre consumes "considerably less" energy than with virgin fibres. However, under this approach the benefits of conserving resources and reducing waste volumes would not be rewarded. The net energy requirement (NER) of the pulping process could be used as the basis for allocating points for energy consumption, since the paper-making step accounts for only 10% of energy use. No distinction between different manufacturing processes is proposed because energy use differences between them are "minor". Indeed, no technology should be ruled out, the report says, so as to encourage improvements in all technologies.

The group decided to use sulphur dioxide emissions as the only criterion for emissions to air because the figure could be easily calculated by a materials balance, and because a carbon dioxide criterion would only address global warming.

COD and AOX are the proposed criteria for releases to water. COD is already widely measured, while AOX is generally used as an index of discharges of chlorinated organics. The report, however, admits that AOX is not specific enough for dangerous substances, and a better parameter would be desirable.

Finally, for releases to land the group found no useful parameter. It therefore recommends a qualitative criterion of whether dumping is controlled or not.

The group went on to recommend an upper hurdle for each criterion subject to the points system to ensure that a product containing materials from mills having very high releases would fail. Below is the proposed points allocation for xerographic copying paper.

These figures, the report says, are tentative and a judgement on the relative weighting of the various categories would need to be made. In practice, they should be selected so that the best mills obtain the lowest score and the worst mills the highest. A cut-off point for attainment of an eco-label could then be selected.

Eco-labelled products should also perform well and meet a European Standard specification, or an equivalent where no such standard exists. Besides this simple pass or fail approach, the report recommends progressively rewarding products of higher quality by a correction factor to the final points tally.

For kitchen rolls, the group recommended that the absorbency rate should be the quality correction factor. If absorption is slow, more paper will be used, the report argues. This is despite the fact that mopping up spilled water is not the sole use of the product. Recycled pulp would come off badly. Although its absorption capacity is the same, the absorption rate is only one-tenth of that of bleached 100% virgin pulp. On the proposed correction scale, recycled products would be heavily penalised.

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