|Author (Person)||Frost, Laurence|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol 7, No.17, 26.4.01, p22|
EUROPEAN Commission standards officials have agreed to water down requirements for eco-friendly packaging in a U-turn that has provoked condemnation from environmental groups.
Leaked minutes from a meeting between the Commission and industry-standards body CEN include a pledge by the EU executive to ditch tough measures designed to make packaging easier to recycle and re-use.
The rules were set out in a 1996 mandate, which invited CEN to draw up new standards, based on the waste-packaging directive adopted two years earlier.
According to the confidential CEN document, EU officials agreed on 2 April to issue a second mandate "to meet the essential requirements of...the directive, and no further or added requirements as was the case in the previous mandate".
To qualify for the 'reusable' standard, manufacturers will no longer have to show that bottles and other containers can withstand several uses. Demands that they favour certain substances - those that are easy to collect, sort and recycle or incinerate for energy - have also been dropped.
The climb down comes one month after the Commission said it would reject CEN's proposals for standards on re-use, recycling and energy recovery from waste packaging (European Voice, 29 March).
Green groups reacted angrily to the move. "This would imply that the mandate will now be adjusted to the bad standards and not the other way round," said Christian Hey of the European Environment Bureau.
The packaging directive is seen by environmentalists as a key test of the 'new approach' allowing industry bodies to design legislation to fit Union objectives. The Commission has also agreed to consult CEN once again over a new draft mandate before presenting it to member states, according to the leaked document.
"This is a very open adjustment of policy-making to suit industry demands after CEN failed to deliver what was required of them," Hey said.
Weakening the EU standards could also help some countries to make a stronger case for stricter national measures. Denmark is currently defending its ban on metal drinks cans at the European Court of Justice, and Germany has also been referred to the court over its bottle return schemes.
But industry denies that the changes will harm the environment. CEN spokesman Stewart Sanson insisted the decision not to incorporate all the agreed rules into the standards had been taken on technical grounds. "How would we prove that a certain bottle could be re-used a certain number of times?" he said.
Commission officials insist the issue of a new mandate is routine. "The Commission just has to be sure the standards meet the essential requirements," said one. "Those requirements are in the directive."
European Commission standards officials have agreed to water down requirements for eco-friendly packaging in a U-turn that has provoked condemnation from environmental groups.