EU Parliament to vote on waste hierarchy proposal

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Waste, European union, Recycling, Eu

The EU Parliament opens today with a debate on proposals to
introduce a controversial five-stagehierarchy of priority for the
bloc's waste policy.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will examine two proposals on waste. A revision of the EU Waste Directive would set binding targets for waste prevention for the first time. Another proposal focuses on the long-term EU waste strategy by setting a five-stage hierarchy that gives priority to prevention, recycling and reuse over landfills and incineration.

The hierarchial system would require food processors and others to pay for impact studies justifying their use of particular types of packaging.

The EU's packagers, supported by the food industry and other sectors, have been lobbying the bloc's legislatorsfor the past year to vote against the proposals, claiming that it would be too costly to industry and provide no further benefit to the environment. Industry wants the status quo to remain in place.

MEPs will vote on the proposals tomorrow and Wednesday.

The proposed revision to the EU's waste management policy would give preferential treatment toreusable packaging, such as bottles, over recyclable materials. The system is an attempt to pushindustry to use more environmental-friendly materials, with the eventually aim of cutting down onthe amount of waste ending up in landfills.

In November the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA), joined nine other industry organizations in a joint appeal to legislators, calling on them to consider a waste hierarchy system as a "guiding principle" rather than a prescriptive regulatory system set out under EU law.

Julian Carroll, managing director of Europen, has previously said says if such emphasis is put on one waste management method over another, manufacturers could end up paying hundreds of thousands of euros each to justify keeping one particular type of packaging for individual brands. Europen is the bloc's industry association for packagers.

Carroll estimated that processors and packagers could end up spending about €100,000 on each brand to justify the environmental benefits of using a recyclable plastic for their product rather than a reusable bottle.

"This proposal is a big threat to industry,"​ Carroll had said to FoodProductionDaily.comin November. He also noted that the system does not take into account the growing use of biodegradable packaging, which can be returned to landfill.

Europen notes that a Commission proposal made in December 2005, and subsequently amended in Parliament, restates the principles held in the current waste framework directive. This does not set a hierarchical system between re-use, recycling and other recovery methods, such as incineration.

"It provides for a flexible application of the hierarchy and does not explicitly make a preference between the different recovery options such as re-use, recycling and recovery of energy for example,"​ Europen stated in a position paper on the issue.

However legislators subsequently put forward the five step hierarchical system, which is now being considered at the committee stage. Another amendment has been introduced that allows manufacturers to submit life-cycle assessments and cost-to-benefit analyses proving that an alternative treatment option has a better record for a specific waste stream.

The assessments would allow member states to grant exceptions to the rules.

Europen says waste management policy needs to be flexible enough to take account of local factors, such as the nature and composition of the waste streams, the availability of recovery facilities, the feasibility of using different recovery measures, public support, as well as geographic, demographic, economic and environmental conditions.

"Local authorities (and hence consumers) would face higher costs if prevented from choosing the optimal waste management solution in their particular local circumstances,"​ the association argues.

Other organisations supporting Europen's position include the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE), European Brands Association (AIM), Beverage Can Makers in Europe (BCME), European Federation of Bottled Water (EFBW), EuroCommerce, European Federation of Corrugated Board Manufacturers (FEFCO), PlasticsEurope and the European Soft Drinks Industry (UNESDA).

Around 500kg of waste is produced per person per year in Europe. The amount is increasing faster thangross domestic product and less than a third of it is recycled, according to official statistics. In September 2005, the European Commission proposed an overhaul of the 1975 directive, largely in order to lay down rules on recycling and to require member states to draw up binding national programmes for cutting waste production.

EU members generate 1.3bn tonnes of waste a year, an amount that has been growing by up to 10 per cent annually since the 1990s.

On Tuesday evening, the Parliament also debates the reform of the wine sector with the agriculture committee recommending retaining distillation measures for now, empoweringmember states to restrict grubbing-up of vines, and liberalising planting rights.

Mintel reports that for the three month period to November 2006 the word "recyclable" was the leading claim in new food launches, slightly ahead of the "natural" claim.

This is an improvement on its position in the same period in 2005, when 'recyclable' only featured on 3.3 per cent of new products compared to 7.7 per cent during the latest measurement period, and 'natural' was the leading claim on 10.3 per cent of proudcts.

The word "natural" appeared on 7.1 per cent of new products in the three month period to November.

According to European Commission figures there are major differences between the member states in output of packaging waste. Finland and Greece generate less than 100 kg per inhabitant, while Ireland and France generate more than 200 kg.

In terms of packaging per unit of gross domestic product, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden have the lowest and Portugal, Italy and Spain the highest per capita packaging waste generation levels. The figures might be skewed by different interpretations of packaging waste, the Commission noted. A study by the Nordic Council has shown that some of the differences are due to different interpretations of the packaging definition and due to different data collection methods.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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