Legislation And Regulation

As mentioned, legislation and regulation have been used in efforts to decrease the environmental impact of products or packages, particularly their impact on disposal systems, by increasing recycling and use of recycled content, as well as providing incentives for source reduction. Plastics packaging is often a target of such regulation. The most prevalent approach, globally, is implementation of the philosophy that the entity making the packaging decision should be held responsible for the management of waste packaging and should be required to meet target recycling levels. This idea is variously known as producer pays, producer responsibility or extended product (or producer) responsibility (EPR). Its first major manifestation was in Germany.

Germany's Ordinance on the Avoidance of Packaging Waste requires that manufacturers and distributors take back and recycle or reuse a certain percentage of all packaging materials or participate in an established national waste management program. For distribution packaging, third-party organizations have been set up to handle the take-back and recycling of used packages. For retail packages, industry established the Duales System Deutschland (DSD) to collect, sort, and recycle postconsumer packaging. Participation in this system is identified by labeling packages with the Green Dot symbol.

Participating companies pay fees to the Duales System that vary according to the amount and type of the packaging material. The 1994 costs for plastics were 2.95 Deutsch Mark/kg, compared to 1.50 for aluminum, 0.40 for paper and paperboard, and 0.15 for glass. There is also a per item fee that is added to the weight-based charge [35].

Consumers either place packaging materials bearing the Green Dot in yellow bags or yellow bins for curbside collection or bring them to drop-off locations located near their homes. Companies that do not participate in the Green Dot system are required by law to take back and recycle their own used packaging. Consumers have the right to return such packaging to the retailer where they purchased the goods.

For transport packaging, participation in the Green Dot system is an option, but in most cases manufacturers either arrange their own systems or participate in material-specific multiuser systems that offer better pricing than DSD. In many cases, manufacturers have switched to reusable transport packaging, often using collapsible plastic crates.

The government sets minimum requirements for both collection and recycling of packaging. Currently, a recycling rate of 60% is required for plastics packaging. The Duales System reported that in the year 2000, 589,000 metric tonnes of plastic packaging were recycled, for a savings of about 20 billion MJ of primary energy. This analysis of energy use is the first step in an effort to measure the ecological benefit of packaging recycling. The organization also reports that the amount of sales packaging taken home each year by the average shopper declined by over 13% between 1991 and 1997 [36].

For several years after the German Packaging Ordinance was adopted in 1991, experts predicted the system would fail. However, by the mid-1990s the idea of producer responsibility had instead been adopted by the entire European Union (EU), and continues to expand around the world. A partnership of European Green Dot organizations, PRO EUROPE, was established to grant the right to use the Green Dot in other countries in order to help prevent trade barriers and guarantee free movement of goods. In April, 2001, Hungary became the twelfth European country to adopt the Green Dot as the financing mark for packaging recovery and recycling. Membership also includes, in addition to Germany, European Union member states Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Austria, Portugal, and Spain, and non-EU members Norway, Latvia, and the Czech Republic. About 60,000 licensees mark approximately 460 billion articles of packaging with the Green Dot each year. The symbol is protected as a trademark in 170 countries around the world, making it the world's most widely used trademark [36]. On the negative side, the cost of recycling retail plastic packaging is reported to exceed the cost of the plastic raw materials used to make it [37].

Since the cost of participating in the Green Dot system is affected by both the type and amount of packaging material used for a product, there is an incentive for companies to reduce their use of packaging. For example, a German bakery changed from a 160-^m film to a 130-^m film, for a net reduction in packaging film volume of about 20%. The result was a savings in environmental charges of about 25%, totaling more than $100,000 per year [38].

The European Union's Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste, Council Directive 94/62/EC, adopted in 1994, requires EU member states to take necessary action to recover between 50 and 65% of packaging waste and to recycle between 25 and 45%, with a minimum of 15% for each type of packaging material [39]. As described above, the approach that has been uniformly adopted to reach these goals is some variation of producer responsibility for packaging. For retail packaging, often this involves licensing and use of the Green Dot system. Countries in the EU differ considerably on the amount of packaging recovery, including plastics, that is currently being achieved. In general, countries that only recently implemented the regulations have lower recovery rates. Several countries that are applying for EU membership have also implemented producer responsibility for packaging materials. Norway, which is not an EU member, has also adopted the Green Dot system. The EU is also adopting producer responsibility for certain products, including automobiles and electronics.

The EU in 1999 moved to adopt what are termed "essential requirements" for packaging to establish standards for how packaging must meet environmental demands. The regulation provides that packaged products can be banned if they interfere with recycling programs, are not easily recovered, or could be packaged with less material without impeding performance. There has been considerable difficulty in reaching agreement about what the packaging standards will be. At this writing, while companies have to show proof of compliance with the essential requirements, there is no standard method for doing so, and consequently there is doubt about whether the requirements are legally enforceable.

Several other countries around the world have also adopted mandatory extended product (or producer) responsibility (EPR). Examples include Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Brazil, and Peru.

Canada adopted a National Packaging Protocol in 1989 that required a 50% reduction in packaging waste going to disposal by 2000. This target was achieved by 1996, four years ahead of schedule, through a variety of mechanisms, differing from province to province. The Canadian Industry Packaging Stewardship Initiative resulted in adoption of a set of Guiding Principles for Packaging Stewardship in 1996. A number of provinces have instituted deposits on selected containers, and there are also a number of voluntary programs run by industry to recover certain types of packaging materials.

In the United States, most action on recovery and recycling of packaging has occurred at the state level. Ten states have programs that impose deposits on certain beverage containers, in most cases on carbonated soft drinks and beer. Maine and California have extended the deposit system to a variety of additional beverages, including bottled water and fruit juice. Maine's system covers all beverages except milk. California's is less inclusive. It should be noted that California's system is actually a refund value system, rather than a deposit system. Distributors pay a per-container fee to a state fund, and consumers then can deliver the empty containers to designated redemption centers for refund. In most deposit states, consumers are charged a per-container deposit, in addition to the item price, and can return the empty container to any retailer handling that brand for return of the deposit. While such systems are vehemently opposed by the beverage industry and retailer groups, they have proven to be quite effective in achieving return of targeted containers for recycling. In most deposit states, redemption rates are 90% or more. California, with its lower refund value and less convenient redemption system, has lower recovery rates. In Michigan, where the deposit is 10 cents per container rather than the more typical 5 cents, return rates are higher.

The extended product responsibility idea has yet to have any substantial impact on packaging for domestic consumption, although it does, of course, affect companies exporting goods to countries with such regulations. Several states have begun to propose or pass EPR for problematic products such as batteries, and Minnesota has an EPR system in place for carpet. Many states have banned certain wastes from disposal facilities. The most common such material is yard waste. Some states prohibit disposing of recyclables. Regulations requiring recycled content or voluntary agreements for minimum recycled content are common for newspaper.

California, Oregon, and Wisconsin have laws that require recycled content in some plastic containers. The Wisconsin law requires at least 10% "recycled or remanufactured" content in plastic containers except those for food, beverages, drugs, and cosmetics. There has evidently been little enforcement of this law, and it has had little effect.

Oregon requires use of 25% postconsumer recycled content in rigid plastic containers (RPCs) unless the recycling rate for plastic containers in the state is at least 25%. There are exemptions for food and medical packaging, source-reduced containers, and some others. Companies can also comply under recycling rate provisions if all containers of a specific type or brand are recycled at a rate of at least 25%. Since the law became effective, the recycling rate for RPCs in the state has been over the 25% minimum, so no packaging modifications have been required. However, the state Environmental Quality Department has warned that recent declines in the plastic recycling rate may cause the rate to drop below the 25% minimum within the next few years, in which case users of RPCs covered by the law would have to show compliance in some other way.

California has a law that is very similar to Oregon's, but its history has been considerably different. For the first year in which compliance was required, the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) was unable to reach agreement on an overall RPC recycling rate for the state and ended up adopting a range of rates that spanned the 25% mark. Since that time the rates have been below 25% and falling. Therefore, companies are legally required to comply with the law in some other manner. This effort was complicated considerably by the fact that the rate was determined 2 years after the fact, rather than estimated for the coming year as is done in Oregon. Thus, companies were caught by surprise and found themselves in noncompliance because they had expected to comply under the 25% overall RPC recycling rate provision. The CIWMB has reached compliance agreements with several companies in which the companies admitted noncompliance and put into place plans to come into compliance in subsequent years. In April, 2001, CIWMB announced that five companies operating under such agreements had come into compliance, so no further enforcement action would be taken against them. The board has also revised its procedure for determining rates and is moving toward forecasting rates rather than documenting them after the fact. There is also hope that the expanded beverage container refund system, which went into effect in January, 2000, will boost recycling rates. The most recent recycling rate, for 1999, released in July 2000, showed a 17.9% rate for all rigid plastic containers, and a 24.8% rate for PET. In contrast, the 1995 rates were 24.6% for all rigid plastic containers, and 38.8% for PET. The law provides that PET containers, to be in compliance, must be recycled at a rate of at least 55%. There have also been a series of efforts to toughen the law. One of the most recent efforts, introduced in April, 2001, would require RPC manufacturers to pay a penalty if the recycling rate for the containers was under 50%. So far, none of these efforts have been successful.

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