Packaging is everywhere. It is impossible to imagine life without it. The benefits are obvious: thanks to packaging, products reach the consumer undamaged and the use-by-date of perishable products is extended. For the consumer, packaging often provides greater ease of use while shopping.
However, there are not just advantages connected with packaging. Often, consumers have the feeling that products have been packaged far too generously. No surprise therefore, that many people wonder whether all that packaging is indeed necessary. Whether they are not buying more packaging than product. And whether that packaging might have negative consequences for the environment.
The fact that packaging can overburden the environment, is well known and often all too visible. A lot of street litter consists of packaging waste and at sea gigantic “waste islands” are drifting around. Sometimes, this pollution has very serious consequences for the environment and gives packaging a bad reputation with the ever more environmentally conscious consumer. That is why it is important to know which legal obligations apply to combat as much as possible these adverse effects. Below, this legislation is briefly introduced.
The “packaging directive” 94/62/EC from 1994 (officially “directive concerning packaging and packaging waste”, reviewed in 2004 by directive 2004/12/EC) tried to solve amongst others the environmental problems regarding packaging. The directive sets goals for the collection and recycling of packaging waste and makes a number of essential requirements concerning the composition, reuse and recovering of packaging. We also find maximum concentrations for some heavy metals (lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium).
One of the most important concepts in this directive is the so-called “essential requirements”. These make demands in the area of manufacturing and composition, reuse and recovering with which packaging must comply. Only packaging meeting these demands, can be admitted to the European internal market. The essential requirements can be found in Attachment II of the packaging directive.
The packaging directive was transformed by the federal authorities into the “RD packaging” (Royal Decree of March 25, 1999 containing the provision of product standards for packaging) and the “Law Product Standards” (Law of December 21st, 1998, concerning the product standards for the promotion of sustainable production and consumption patterns, and for the protection of the environment and public health).
For more information about the regional transformation of the packaging directive, we refer to:
• For the Flemish Region: the Public Waste Agency of Flanders (OVAM)
• For the Walloon Region: the Public Service Wallonia (SPW)
• For the Brussels-Capital Region: the Brussels Institute for the Management of the Environment (IBGE-BIM)
Coordination between the regions and the federal government in this sphere is handled by the Waste Steering Group and the Sustainable Production and Consumption Steering Group of the Coordinating Committee for International Environmental Policy (CCIEP). The regions also founded the “Interregional Packaging Commission” (IPC), to ensure a harmonised management of packaging waste.
Harmonised standards had been drawn up concerning the essential requirements of the directive and the maximum concentration for heavy metals. This entirety consists of an umbrella standard which indicates how the other standards should be used (EN 13427), five standards which elaborate on an element from the waste hierarchy and the essential requirements (EN 13428, EN 13429, EN 13430, EN 13431, EN 13432), and a standard for the maximum concentrations of heavy metals (CR 13695). Furthermore, there is also the standard EN 13193, in which all packaging related terminology can be found.
In Belgium producers can apply for this standard at a charge at the Bureau of Normalization – NBN.
Nowadays, some packaging is biologically degradable. However, in Belgium there are strict rules for claims such as “compostable” and “home compostable”. For packaging it is even forbidden to claim “biologically degradable”. Since this information is interpreted by many consumers as a permit to dispose of the packaging after use as street litter. This “after all, disappears automatically”. More information on biodegradable and compostable materials can be found in the section “Biodegradable and compostable materials”.