Packaging waste has decreased by a third, says industry association

New statistics have revealed as false the commonly held notion of an increasing European mountain of packaging waste. According to the packaging industry association, The European Organisation for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN), the amount of packaging going to final disposal is decreasing sharply.

Data from European member states, compiled by ASSURRE (Association for Sustainable Use and Recovery of Resources in Europe), shows that the amount of packaging going for final disposal in either landfill or by incineration decreased by over a third between 1990 and 1997 in states where figures are available. The amount of packaging actually entering the market is either stabilising or declining.

In Germany, one of the few countries with comprehensive packaging statistics, total packaging consumption decreased by nearly 10% between 1990 and 1998. Combining this with a sharp increase in recycling to a current level of 86%, the amount of “sales” packaging being disposed of has plummeted by 75%, says EUROPEN.

Packaging waste disposal is not so progressive in the UK, though a growing mountain of waste is still a myth, says EUROPEN. Though overall historical data are unavailable, analysis of typical household dustbin waste over the past 20 years shows that the total weight of material used for all packaging has reduced slightly. Taken against a background of an increasing proportion of packaged items in supermarkets, this slight decrease is remarkable, says EUROPEN.

Member states without reasonable data, the Southern states in particular, are likely to have been late in implementing packaging legislation, thus are assumed by EUROPEN to have a possible increase in overall disposal amounts. This is a result of lower reuse and recycling rates combined with an increasing market place.

One of the main reasons for the myth of the burgeoning packaging waste mountain, says EUROPEN, is a confusion over waste statistics, where it is general solid waste that is increasing, and not the packaging component within it. Another reason for the myth is that recent advances in waste recovery and recycling are often not taken into account.

EUROPEN points out that packaging provides enormous benefits to consumers. In industrialised countries, says the organisation, only two to three percent of goods are spoiled before reaching the final consumer. In developing countries, due to a lack of effective packaging, 30 to 50% of food is spoilt.

Packaging waste does need more management, admits EUROPEN, requiring environmental responsibility within the market place.

“The priority should not be on producing forever higher recovery targets, but rather on optimising the environmental and economic efficiency of current systems,” said Julian Carroll, Managing Director of EUROPEN.

The British Government, however, needs to exercise greater responsibility, say campaigners.

“The UK is at the bottom of the league tables for all recycling,” Sarah Oppenheimer, Waste Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told edie. “Our government is opposing higher targets for packaging and waste [in Europe] because we are so far behind EU targets. We’d like to see greater consumer responsibility rather than concentrating on recovery rates.”

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