Flexible Packaging & European Disposal Laws

Date: Oct 01, 2003

This second article in a series on the impact of solid waste laws on converters examines packaging waste regulation in the European Union (EU) in light of forthcoming amendments to the Directive on packaging and packaging waste (for part one see PFFC August p14).

Unlike the US, where the Federal government has an advisory role in matters relating to nonhazardous solid wastes and the states have a patchwork of disposal laws, the EU has taken a more direct and active role in regulating the disposal of packaging wastes.

The EU packaging directive implements extended producer responsibility principles, which place the burden for mitigating post-consumer impacts of packaging waste on manufacturers. This is done by imposing a surcharge or fee on specified products, requiring manufacturers to participate in product recycling or material recovery programs, or both.

Introduced in 1994, the European Community Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (EC 94/62) sought to harmonize packaging and packaging waste management among EU member states, and to reduce the overall volume of packaging produced.

Member states were required to implement measures reducing heavy metal content in packaging and establishing waste collection and recovery programs that, by June 2001, recovered between 50% and 65% of packaging waste and recycled between 25% and 45%. Plastic and other individual material recycling rates must meet or exceed 15%.

National legislation and regulations implemented pursuant to the Directive also were to impose packaging design, composition, and manufacturing requirements limiting packaging volume and weight to the minimum amount necessary to maintain an adequate level of safety and hygiene for the packaged product and the consumer.

Likewise, packaging was to be designed to permit its reuse or recycling or to decrease its environmental impact when disposed while minimizing the presence of noxious and other hazardous substances as a constituent or component of the package.

National implementation of the Directive varies, but packaging manufacturers generally have borne the costs of implementation and compliance.

Packaging manufacturers in England meet their obligation under the Directive by registering individually with the Environmental Agency or paying a membership fee to participate in an industry-sponsored recovery program. Fees are apportioned among raw material suppliers, converters, packaging businesses, and retailers or end-users.

Germany, on the other hand, requires packaging suppliers to take back and recycle up to 70% of their packaging. As an alternative, manufacturers can purchase a license to participate in the Green Dot program operated by Duales System Deutschland AG (DSD), a nonprofit organization that recovers and recycles packaging on behalf of its licensees. The trademarked green dot indicates a product's packaging complies with the German packaging regulations.

Most member states achieved or surpassed the Directive's minimum recycling and recovery targets well ahead of the June 2001 deadline, but plastics recycling continues to lag behind. Accordingly, the Commission, which is required to review the Directive's recycling and recovery targets every five years, proposed to increase the Directive's target recovery and recycling rates for 2008 to between 50% and 60%, and 55% and 80%, respectively. The Commission also proposed dramatic increases to minimum recycling targets for individual materials from 15% to 60% for glass, 55% for paper and cardboard, and 50% for metals. Conceding the EU's inability to recycle its plastics waste, the Commission proposed to increase the individual target only to 20%.

While stakeholders have argued the proposed recycling targets skew competition in favor of materials, subject to lower recycling targets, converters must realize member states may offset that advantage with more stringent design/manufacturing requirements.

Competing versions of the proposal were approved by both the European Parliament and the European Council and must be reconciled before the revised Directive will be binding on member states.

Reproduced with the permission of Paper, Film & Foil CONVERTER magazine (312.726.2802). Copyright © 2002 by Intertec Publishing. All rights reserved.

Sheila A. Millar, a partner with Keller and Heckman LLP, counsels both corporate and association clients. Contact her at 202/434-4143; millar@khlaw.com.