Use of life-cycle analysis is resulting in discriminatory packaging legislation

Legislation in European countries designed to cut down on the use of one-use-only packaging for beverages has no legal or scientific basis and limits the market opportunities for materials such as steel, aluminium and glass as drinks packaging, says a packaging industry association.

Legislation in two countries in particular is being highlighted by APEAL, the Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging. The Danish have brought out a ban on cans and taxes on packaging material, whilst Germany is proposing deposits on some one way drinks containers. The situation makes no sense, particularly with regard to steel, says APEAL. “Steel is environmentally friendly for a food can – so why does the legislation assume it’s not for a drinks can?” asks APEAL spokesman Philippe Wolper.

This situation was arrived at because it is unlikely that refillable packaging will ever be regarded as acceptable for food, leaving drinks packaging as the easy target for the life-cycle analysis which has resulted in the recent discriminatory legislation, APEAL Technical Environmental Affairs Manager Jean-Pierre Taverne explained to edie. What’s more, life-cycle analysis is usually based only on one aspect of the environmental impact of packaging, such as greenhouse gas emissions. This means that one environmental impact is chosen above others in an unscientific, subjective manner, and APEAL is warning legislators that they need to be more cautious, and should not bring in new laws based solely on life-cycle analysis. “In reality, it’s not so clear cut,” said Taverne. “It’s a range of values.”

Looking at steel in particular, across Europe as a whole there is more than 50% recycling of the material, and as much as 81% in Germany. This means that refillable packaging only has an environmental advantage with short transportation distances. Once these distances become longer, there is no benefit, says APEAL.

The organisation fears that although different types of packaging are suitable for different situations, certain types will not be available if pushed to extinction by legislation.

“Consumers should be given a proper choice of packaging materials to match different needs. High environmental goals should be met, but markets across Europe need to be kept open,” Wolper said. “Every packaging material has its strengths and weaknesses. What we need in Europe is choice and consumer information.”

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