Recycling and Reuse: Packaging Material: European Union Directive
European policy makers have taken steps to reduce packaging wastes and reuse or recycle these materials. Packaging wastes are defined as any material that is used to contain, protect, handle, deliver and present goods. They represent about 17% of the municipal waste stream in Europe. This fact sheet is not comprehensive; rather, it provides a starting point for readers interested in investigating the topic.
- Background: Development of Packaging Directives
- Key Topics in Amending the 1994 EU Packaging Directive
- Further background
- Country Examples
- Some U.S. Activities and Additional Resources
Background: Development of Packaging Directives
Summary of 1994 Packaging Directive
The European Community first introduced measures on the management of packaging waste in the early 1980’s. Background on the topic provided in this fact sheet begins with the 1994 Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (94/62/EC). This directive harmonized actions taken by EU nations to promote reuse and recycling and to manage packaging and packaging wastes. The 1994 Packaging Directive focuses on prevention, reuse, recycling, and other forms of recovery, and also establishes the rudiments of extended producer responsibility principles. These principles require manufacturers to play a role in mitigating the post-consumer environmental impacts of products from which they profit.
The 1994 Directive replaces Directive 85/339/EEC on the packaging of liquid beverage containers. The 1994 Directive also and covers all packaging placed on the market in the European Community and all packaging waste, regardless of the material used. The Directive:
- provides that the member states take measures, including formation of national programs to encourage packaging reuse to prevent the formation of packaging waste
- reduces heavy metals content in packaging
- requires that countries introduce systems to return and/or collect used packaging;
- establishes recycling targets and a process for adjusting these goals;
- requires that countries promote information campaigns, aimed at the general public and economic operators, to promote recycling; and
- requires that countries develop harmonized data bases on packaging and packaging waste, to monitor implementation of the Directive.
Summary of 2004 and 2005 Packaging Directive Amendments
Directive 2004/12/EC, adopted in early 2004, formally amends the 1994 Packaging Directive by establishing a deadline of August 18, 2005, for EU states to transpose the 2004 Packaging Directive into law. Directive 2004/12/EC:
- clarifies the scope of “packaging" covered by the directive;
- amends the timetable to increase recovery targets. Increasing the target by 10% to require that a minimum of 60% by weight of all packaged wastes must be recovered or incinerated at waste incineration plants with energy recovery no later than December 31, 2008;
- amends the timetable to increase recycling target - increasing the target by 30% to require that, by 31 December 2008, between 55 and 80% by weight of all packaging waste be recycled; replacing a target of 15% as a minimum by weight for each packaging material;
- establishes the following recycling targets by 31 December 2008 for materials contained in packaging waste: 60 % by weight for glass, 60 % by weight for paper and board, 50% by weight for metals, 22.5 % by weight for plastics, and 15 % by weight for wood;
- extends attainment dates for Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, as well as new EU States. Directive 2005/20/EC, extends the deadlines in the revised Packaging Directive until December 2012 for 19 New member states;
- amends the reporting and revisions timetable.
Key Topics in Amending the 1994 EU Packaging Directive
Recycling and recovery targets. For all materials other than plastics, most EU member States achieved or surpassed the 1994 Directive’s minimum recycling and recovery targets well ahead of the June 2001 deadline. Critics have sought unsuccessfully to increase recycling goals and to eliminate the recovery target in order to discourage incineration. Furthermore, they unsuccessfully advocated for both minimum packaging reuse targets and for mandatory requirements that producers and traders of packaging cover the costs of their return, collection, reuse, and recycling.
Package marking systems and indicators. Article 4 of the 1994 Packaging Directive stipulates that the Commission shall help to promote the prevention of packaging waste formation by encouraging the development of suitable European standards. In 2005, the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) approved revised versions of all five packaging standards . Article 8 of the 1994 Packaging Directive requires a marking and identification system of packaging materials in order to facilitate collection, reuse, and recovery. In January 1997, the European Commission established the identification system (Commission Decision 97/129/EC). A contentious issue in the 2004 revision of the Directive was introduction of a packaging environment indicator (PEI) based on greenhouse gas emissions and waste going to final disposal. Such a PEI could be used as a ‘pass/fail’ test for entry of new packaging into the EU market. While many in the European Parliament were enthusiastic about developing this proposal, the European Commission recommended further analysis of the PEI idea and further debate among stakeholders before taking action.
Incineration/energy recovery. The EU agreed in 2004 when revising the Packaging Directive that incineration in a facility equipped with energy recovery systems may be counted toward achieving recovery targets. The EU hierarchy for waste management, established by the Community Strategy for Waste Management in 1996, is, in order of priority: prevention, recovery (including energy recovery), and disposal (including incineration). The U.S. EPA’s solid waste management hierarchy places source reduction and reuse first, recycling (including composting) second, and land disposal or combustion last
For further background information on packaging waste, see:
National implementation of the Packaging Directive in imposition of packaging design, composition, and manufacturing requirements varies across EU States. For more information on the effectiveness of these strategies, see a 2005 pilot study by the European Commission entitled Effectiveness of Packaging Waste Management Systems in Selected Counties . Strategies chosen to implement EU packaging directives vary. Below are two examples:
Germany. The Federal Republic of Germany has implemented the EU policy on packaging through its Ordinance on the Avoidance and Recovery of Packaging Waste . Germany has developed extensive requirements for all types of consumer packaging that shift the cost of managing packaging waste from the public sector to private industry. The Ordinance makes industry responsible for packaging at the end of its life cycle, including the costs of collecting, sorting, and recycling packaging after consumers discard it, and calls for retailers to install bins so that customers may leave primary and secondary packaging in stores. It also imposes mandatory deposits on non-refillable containers for beverages, washing and cleansing agents, and water-based paints. Furthermore the Ordinance also rules out incineration for energy recovery as an option. These requirements provide incentives to consider waste management costs in the design of products for sale.
Germany’s approach to implementing requirements for packaging waste provides an exemption to the primary packaging regulations for alternative programs. The Duales System Deutschland GmbH (Dual System of Germany), a nonprofit organization, works with waste-management companies to organize the collection and sorting of packaging waste for recycling. An example of such a service is Green Dot . Green Dot is employed in nearly 20 EU Member States to help meet packaging requirements that promote recycling and reuse. A green dot on product packaging shows that it complies with packaging regulations. Manufacturers can purchase a license to participate in the Green Dot program, which recovers and recycles packaging on behalf of its licensees. License fees are based on the type and weight of the packaging materials As long as Ordinance quotas are met, retailers do not have to "take back" primary packaging, and consumers do not have to pay mandated deposits on non-refillable containers.
England. England has taken a different approach than Germany to packaging waste. England has chosen to implement a unique "shared producer" responsibility, market-based approach in implementing its packaging directive. This directive establishes incentives designed to minimize the amount of waste produced. The 1998 essential packaging requirements regulations specify requirements for packaging placed on the market, which include: minimization of packaging volume and weight; design and use of packaging in a manner that permits its reuse and recovery; and limits on the concentration of lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium in packaging. The 2005 producer responsibility obligations (packaging waste) regulations establish shared responsibility among materials producers, packaging manufacturers, packer/fillers, and sellers for recovery and recycling of packaging waste. Recovery and recycling targets under the 2005 law are met according to a certain percentage obligation associated with economic activity. Parties meet their obligation by registering individually with the Environmental Agency or paying a membership fee to participate in an industry-sponsored recovery program. Businesses with a minimum financial turnover must register with the Environment Agency or one of about 30 compliance scheme operators and supply annual packaging flow information to demonstrate regulatory compliance. Packaging recovery notes (PRNs), issued when recycling and recovery take place, can be traded among different businesses.
Some U.S. Activities and Additional Resources
Packaging wastes in the United States
EPA estimates that, in 1999, 42 percent of all paper, 40 percent of all plastic soft drink bottles, 55 percent of all aluminum beer and soft drink cans, and 57 percent of all steel packaging were recycled in the United States. The U.S. federal government primarly has taken a primarily advisory role in supporting the recycling and reuse of nonhazardous wastes. Many U.S. states and municipalities have enacted laws or programs to further these goals. U.S. policies and laws generally have not addressed packaging wastes, per se, as a distinct class.
For more information on U.S. policies and laws on recycling, see: