EEB slams new EU packaging standards

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Packaging, European union

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) has slammed new EU
packaging standards, claiming they are likely to encourage
increased packaging volumes and do little to facilitate greater
recycling.

According to the federation, the new packaging standards, which were passed last week, are the same standards that were rejected four years ago as being inadequate. Instead of supporting innovation and efficiency by promoting prevention, reuse and recyclability of waste, they will simply exacerbate the problem.

"The Commission has failed to ensure sufficient quality and discredited the idea of delegating technical aspects of environmental policies to standardisation",​ said Stefan Scheuer from the EEB and chair of ECOS (European Environmental Citizens' Organisation for Standardisation).

"Instead of creating an ambitious and enforceable level playing field for Europe's industry, Member States are now forced to develop piecemeal solutions to meet their legal requirements."

The packaging industry is an obvious target for attempts at reducing waste. For example, at 38.1 per cent, packaging is by far the largest consumer of plastic, which in 2002 totalled over 38 million tonnes in Western Europe.

The agreement therefore aims to improve the environmental performance of the sector, by making industry compliant with internationally agreed technical specifications, and encourage the sustainable development of biodegradable forms of packaging.

Many companies have agreed to submit their packaging materials and products for certification by an independent certification body and label their packaging products with a specific symbol to inform consumers, retailers and other interested stakeholders. The terms biodegradability and compostability have been adopted as recommended by the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive.

But the standards, developed by the industry-dominated EU standardisation institution CEN, are the second attempt to elaborate useful standards to enable enforcement agencies to steer the packaging industry in the direction of less and more recyclable and reusable packaging. And the EEB​ believes that they will fail completely to achieve these objectives.

According to the federation, the new standards allow companies to use even vacuous arguments such as packaging presentation, such as "it has to look bigger than it is"​, to justify voluminous and unnecessary packaging. In addition, packaging with any percentage of recyclable materials can be termed 'recyclable'.

The EEB also claims that a packaging item with as much as 50 per cent inert (non-burning) material, made of PVC or with unacceptably low energy content, meets the standard on 'energy recovery'.

By publishing these standards, the EEB believes that the Commission has failed to do its job as regulator and ensure that the packaging directive provides the right enforcement tools that are not violating the objectives of the packaging and packaging waste directive itself - namely packaging and packaging waste prevention.

"The 10 year experiment on using the private standardisation bodies to set environmental requirements has failed",​ said Melissa Shinn, waste policy officer at the EEB. "The Commission needs to admit that and revise its approach and the packaging directive as soon as possible."

The EEB is a federation of 143 environmental citizens organisations based in all EU Member States and most Accession countries, as well as a few neighbouring countries. They range from local and national to European and international. The aim of the EEB is to protect and improve the environment of Europe.

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