The European Parliament yesterday approved by an overwhelming majority a motion to raise the proposed amount of packaging waste that should be recycled from 55 per cent to 65 per cent.
The motion was approved by 487 votes to just six in opposition.
The parliament also voted to bring forward the target date for making member states apply the rule to end-2006 from 2008.
A motion to force 75 per cent of waste to be recycled was rejected.
Several EU countries, including the UK and those countries intending to join the EU from 2004, will find it hard to meet the requirements because existing business structures are not geared up towards meeting such objectives. Many businesses have complained that the necessary capital required to provide such recycling capabilities will simply not be available in such a short space of time.
Existing laws mean the packaging companies already have to cover the costs of recycling 45 per cent of their production.
Taking existing business infrastructures into mind the European Parliament has already given Ireland, Greece and Portugal until June 30 2009 to meet the increased targets.
However, yesterday's vote is by no means final. EU governments now have to ponder their reactions to the parliament vote, which still has another reading before the proposed directive can be finally passed.
Objections from members such as the UK could throw a spanner in the works and would almost certainly delay the proposed 2006 deadline. However, the proposal was cautiously welcomed by the UK government's environment spokesman:
"We are drowning in a sea of milk cartons, hairspray and Coke cans and awash with pizza boxes and wine bottles," he said. "If this legislation signals the end of one more elaborate box around a fancy bottle, wrapped in plastic and sold with a carton in a heavyweight bag, it will have done its job.
"With landfills reaching capacity and incinerators at overflow, the wads of packaging we use have got to go."
The parliament also voted for individual recycling targets - 20 per cent for plastic packaging, 50 per cent for metals, 55 per cent for paper and carton and 60 per cent for glass.
Considering recycling laws that are already in force in Denmark, presently one of the most forward-thinking countries in the EU when it comes to recycling, parliament said that 60 per cent of waste by weight should be converted into energy.