Higher recycling levels and other forms of packaging waste recovery are largely the reasons says EUROPEN, the European Organization for Packaging and the Environment. In 2008 in the EU 27 member states just over 17 million tonnes of packaging were sent for final disposal. To put this into context, it is estimated that 89 million tonnes of food are currently wasted in the EU 27, more than five times the amount of packaging waste.
The analysis of data from 1998 to 2008 by EUROPEN also shows that in EU-15 growth in packaging waste is clearly decoupling from growth in GDP, an objective of the EU waste strategy. In the 11 year period studied, despite an ageing population and a trend throughout Europe towards smaller households (all of which led to the purchase of a greater number of packaged goods) the amount of packaging placed on the market (excluding wood packaging) rose by only 10% and the amount of packaging waste disposed of (also excluding wood) actually fell by 43%.
The report: Packaging and Packaging Waste Statistics in Europe 1998-2008 contradicts widely held perceptions that packaging has led to a mountain of waste across Europe. Instead, it confirms an earlier EU Commission assessment of the EU Thematic Strategy on Waste Prevention and Recycling which showed that packaging waste from households and commercial sources accounts for only about three per cent of total waste.
Commenting on the findings in the report, EUROPEN Managing Director, Julian Carroll said “The data supports our view that the 1994 Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste is clearly one of the most successful pieces of EU environmental legislation, something in which all participants can take pride. This is particularly true for consumers who, across the EU, are increasingly accepting the sorting of packaging in their homes for recycling as a routine activity”.
The EU Directive set a 2008 recycling target of 55% to be reached by 12 member states with the remainder including the newer member states to reach the same target between 2011 and 2015. By 2008 three of the remainder had passed the 55% target and most others were approaching or already beyond a 50% recycling rate.
EUROPEN members, which are major companies producing consumer goods, packaging and packaging materials, are all stepping up their efforts to address packaging related sustainability issues individually and collectively in partnership with public initiatives such as the EU Sustainable Consumption and Production Action Plan. “Clearly, this success of the packaging value chain can be seen as an example of best practice for other industry sectors in their efforts to do more with less” said Julian Carroll, adding, “in the context of overall sustainability it is more and more evident that contrary to popular misconception, packaging should be regarded as part of the solution, not part of the problem and as a net contributor to achieving the broad sustainability goal of resource optimization and waste minimization”.