A new EU proposal to introduce a fixed five-stage waste hierarchy from reduction to re-use, recycling, other recovery options, and only then to disposal, is ruffling feathers among converters and users of packaging.
The proposal for these and other amendments to the Waste Framework Directive came in a draft report from the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. But packaging organisation Europen, which represents industry interests, warns: "EU waste legislation does not contain, and has never contained, a rigid hierarchy."
The prime concern seems to be that local and regional waste arrangements, which currently favour, say, recycling over returnables, or energy-from-waste (EfW) and other recovery options over recycling, could face legal challenges.
John May, manager of Corus Steel Packaging Recycling, says: "You have to be able to ship containers freely over long distances on a level playing field." Europe has already seen environmental pretexts being used to create artificial barriers to trade, according to Corus.
May adds: "It would be wrong to insist on re-use, for instance, where it's not appropriate. I think it's simply dogma, and the benefits of a rigid hierarchy are unproven."
Even if the changes were built into a new directive, it is unclear whether setting such priorities would be enforceable. The committee report says the hierarchy would have "no legal force". But Europen says the change "implies a strict and legal order of preference"
The proposal suggests a specific procedure for "derogation" or exemption from the hierarchy. "This would place a huge bureaucratic and cost burden on industry and member states," Europen argues.