INTERNATIONAL: Europeans Push To Reduce Packaging Wastes

Measures to keep packaging waste out of landfills can take many forms in Europe.

Probably the most infamous approach is Germany's 1991 Packaging Ordinance, which emphasizes producer responsibility and pressures manufacturers to eliminate any excess packaging. The private-sector "Dual System Deutschland" (DSD) collects and sorts used packaging materials independently of existing municipal operations. So far, Germany has used nearly 1 million metric tons less packaging; households and small firms are responsible for more than half of the reduction (see chart.)

Other European countries have built on the German program's principles. For example, some use Germany's green dot on packaging included in their system.

Austria established a collection company called Altstoff Recycling Austria that is financed through licensing fees. To promote beverage container recycling and refilling, a federal regulation sets targets of 80, 90 and 96 percent (depending on the containers' contents) for the year 2000.

Unlike Germany, Austria allows combustion with energy recovery as a form of recycling. In place of the German quotas for collecting and sorting waste materials, Austria allows a fixed total tonnage of each waste material to be landfilled or incinerated by the year 2000.

Belgium will mold market behavior by levying an ecotax on packaging and disposable products such as razors. Controversy delayed the tax in 1994, but nonreturnable drink containers were to be taxed as of January 1995. Industries can exempt themselves from the ecotax by reducing their waste, reusing materials or participating in FOSTPlus, a type of DSD which was launched last March.

New Swedish regulations hold manufacturers responsible for their product or packaging waste. Denmark has prohibited one-way containers for beer and soft drinks in nonrefillable containers. In Finland, which generates only 100 kilograms of packaging waste per capita per year, in comparison with Germany's 125 kilograms, community pilot programs are targeting packaging waste reduction and recycling.

Faced with household waste volumes that have tripled in one generation, France's 1993 decree has attempted to decrease household packaging waste. The main service organization, Eco-Emballages, is responsible for multi-materials, while French local authorities retain operational responsibility.

All packers and fillers must join a service organization, introduce a deposit system or set up their own government-approved recovery system. The funds from levies charged to member companies are reallocated to local authorities to set up collection and sorting systems.

Eco-Emballages has an overall goal of 75 percent "valorization" (refilling, material recycling, composting and energy recovery) by 2003. Participating companies must show they'll achieve a certain level of performance in order for their recovery systems to be approved. The time scale allows 10 years for growth from pilot programs to 95 percent coverage, whereas Germany's system had just 18 months to mature.

The flexible French approach is sparking interest in other European countries. For example, a group of firms in Spain formed the Association for the Development of Eco-Emballages to develop a version of the French system.

The Netherlands emphasizes public-private cooperation in the form of binding agreements such as the Dutch packaging covenant. A 1994 Dutch framework law made companies legally responsible for all their wastes; it will be followed up by decrees from the Ministry of the Environment. The packaging materials industry already has agreed on the objective to keep packaging waste out of landfills by 2000. The Dutch are modeling their recovery system, KAPS, after Eco-Emballages.

The United Kingdom is pursuing a voluntary approach, based on an industry plan for packaging recovery submitted to the Environmental Secretary last year by the Producers Responsibility Group.

A European Union directive on packaging waste is still pending. Once approved, directives are binding on member countries and must be incorporated into national laws by the specified deadline.

After studying alternatives to the DSD system, the Oko-Institut Darmstadt in Germany has recommended marking non-recyclable packaging with a red dot, charging an additional fee and having municipalities dispose of that packaging with household trash.