Group Reports Europe's Packaging Waste Cut by Third

Group Reports Europe's Packaging Waste Cut by Third

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

Data from European member states, compiled by the 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 more than a third between 1990 and 1997 in states where figures are available. The amount of packaging actually entering the market is either stabilizing 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 United Kingdom, 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 industrialized countries, says the organization, only 2% to 3% 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 spoiled.

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