Controversy flared during European Plastics Forum 2003, as participants debated the merits of the European Union's directive on packaging and packaging waste.
The directive has little to do with environmental improvement and its recycling targets are ``arbitrary and politically driven, rather than science-based,'' according to David Eggleston, head of environmental affairs at Linpac Plastics Ltd. The targets are costing the European economy 5 billion to 10 billion euros ($5.7 million to $11.4 million) a year, he said at the forum, held in June at the European Parliament in Brussels.
Eggleston later was challenged by Inger SchÃ¶rling, the Swedish Green Party's member of the European Parliament. She accused the executive of adopting ``an old-fashioned view'' of sustainable development and described the basis of some of his contentions as ``simply bullshit.''
Earlier, the Linpac executive had quoted former Norwegian prime minister and pioneer of sustainable development, Gro Harlem Bruntland, as maintaining that environmental protection decisions should be based on scientific evidence. Eggleston criticized a precautionary principle cited by environmental groups and some European legislators against the plastics packaging industry.
The principle ``absolutely rejects'' using scientific evidence as a basis for political action, he argued.
``It is rejecting science and is based on visceral gut reaction to issues: `I don't like it, so it shouldn't happen,' '' he said. Eggleston was outlining challenges facing the region's plastics packaging industry at a packaging workshop.
Environmental groups use the precautionary principle ``to try to stop anything happening, unless there is absolute proof that it could never, under any conditions, at any time, do any harm to anyone or anything,'' he said. Industry is being asked to prove a negative, something science cannot do, he said.
However, Sch"rling argued strongly that the precautionary principle does have a scientific base and that industry should not blame ``evil Green members of the Parliament'' because that principle appears in EU legislation. It originated in the EC's founding Treaty of Rome, she said.
Addressing an audience made up chiefly of plastics packaging industry leaders, Eggleston said that the sector has a good sustainable development record. But it should find new ways to show ``our sustainable credentials,'' he stressed.
``We should be looking to find ways of introducing more reusable plastics packaging,'' said Eggleston, who added that the industry should not be afraid of exploiting ``sensible'' niche opportunities for plastics from renewable resource materials.
On Europe's plans to revise the current packaging and waste directive, Eggleston predicts that the likely 2008 recycling target of 22.5 percent for plastics is achievable for most EU member states if industrial/commercial waste is included with consumer waste.
The original 1994 EU waste directive covered all types of packaging waste, he noted. Britain managed to meet the previous 15 percent target without tapping the consumer waste stream.
One of the problems with EU directives is that some countries, notably Germany, set ``very tough recycling targets'' for consumer plastics waste. ``They gold-plate it,'' he said.
Revised regulations can be achieved if they also include exported, collected and sorted plastics, the Linpac executive said. He said he hopes the European Commission and legislators will come to accept the value of feedstock recycling.
On July 2, the European Parliament voted to accept, largely intact, the revised proposals for packaging waste recovery and recycling approved by the EU's Council of Ministers of member states.
The Parliament agreed EU countries should recover a total of 60 percent by weight of all packaging waste by the end of 2008, with 55-80 percent being recycled. It set a recycling target for glass, paper and paperboard packaging of 60 percent; one of 55 percent for metal packaging; and 22.5 percent for plastics.
But legislators agreed that the new accession EU member states should be allowed to choose their own target date for compliance with key directives within 18 months of joining the EU.
Eggleston warned that the imminent expansion of EU membership to bring in 10 more countries could accelerate the closure of plastics supplier operations in Western Europe. Already, low labor costs are drawing customers and their suppliers to Eastern Europe. Proposals to allow the new member states lengthy exemption from key EU directives, among them employment law and environmental protection, will accelerate that trend, he said.
``We should be looking at a level playing field on regulations. This is a real threat to the entire manufacturing base of the 15 [current EU] member states, not just in plastics packaging,'' he said.