Packaging industry's waste plan criticised

The packaging industry's response to Government demands for action on recycling has been slammed by Friends of the Earth (FoE). The proposal, says FoE, fails to set a recycling target, is under-funded and relies on discretionary action by firms.

A strong warning to the packaging industry to come up with firm proposals for recycling or face the legislative consequences was delivered by junior Environment Minister Tony Baldry in January (ENDS Report 204, pp 11-12 ). The Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) responded early in March. Its plans were leaked to FoE, which promptly derided them as "weasel-worded and unenforceable."

INCPEN's proposals were compiled in association with the British Retail Consortium, the Food and Drink Federation and the Institute of Grocery Distribution. Their main thrust is for the whole "packaging chain" to work voluntarily with other waste producers to achieve the Government's target of recycling 50% of recyclable domestic waste by 2000.

"There is no benefit in recycling packaging waste without other wastes," according to INCPEN. But if the Government wants a specific packaging target, it will aim to recover 50% of packaging waste.

In practice, INCPEN's recovery target could be met solely by incineration, since the group has not put forward either a recycling or a waste reduction target. But, as FoE points out, this approach would neither assist in the achievement of the Government's recycling target, nor go very far towards meeting forthcoming a EC proposal on packaging waste (ENDS Report 204, pp 34-35 ), which requires a recycling rate of 60% and a recovery rate of 90%.

INCPEN says it may set a recycling target later. Its Director, Cathy Banks, says that "rather than just pluck a target out of the air, we would rather do hands-on work to see what is the right route forward."

The plan does accept that the packaging industry may need to fund waste recovery ventures. It does not rule out some form of "voluntary levy system" in the longer term, but suggests that the infrastructure can be developed "at minimal or no additional costs." Meanwhile, a short-term three-year fund of £15 million is proposed to demonstrate and assess various recovery mechanisms. The costs, INCPEN proposes, should be shared between the packaging chain, Government and other waste producing industries.

The reliance on voluntary action has been criticised strongly by FoE. If a levy is introduced it should apply to all packs, FoE believes. But Cathy Banks argues that the "UK packaging industry is well aware of what happened in Germany," and that this alone will be incentive enough for companies to join the scheme.

Boosting markets for recycled materials by means of financial incentives is ruled out by INCPEN, and no target for increasing the recycled content of packaging has been proposed. The development of outlets for recycled material, it argues, is a job for the reprocessors.

According to a spokesman, INCPEN wants completely "free and unsubsidised markets," so that "markets can develop on the basis of economic good sense." Not only FoE disagrees. The Government's Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment recommended last October that the market should be manipulated to deliver more recycling capacity (ENDS Report 201, p 3).

Despite the criticism which its proposals have attracted, INCPEN says they were accepted in principle by Mr Baldry.

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