March 19, 1999

By Michael Jessen

The largest recycling related social experiment in history is about to begin in Europe and North America will not escape its impact.

That's the view of Peter Grogan, manager of market development for Weyerhaeuser Recycling in Tacoma, Washington.

Writing in a recent issue of Biocycle magazine, Grogan predicts new European waste reduction and recycling laws will have world-wide ramifications.

According to Grogan, draft legislation is in the works for the separate collection and processing of biodegradable waste. New product regulations call for recycling-appropriate design and the improved designation of product components to simplify recycling.

"The goal is to increase the development of environmentally friendly and recyclable products and to reduce the need for disposal," Grogan writes. "Additionally, the European Union (EU) and some individual nations hope to introduce product disassembly facilities, which they see as an opportunity to stimulate business development and employment."

He says Europe is seriously considering a ban on nonenvironmentally friendly products. "This means difficult-to-recover products and packaging may not be allowed to enter the marketplace."

Quoting consultant Victor Bell, Grogan says such products and packaging as blue glass bottles, ink jet cartridges, polyvinyl chloride shrink wrap, and cosmetic gift packs could be among the banned items. "Just as products are banned for consumer safety reasons, Europe seems poised to remove products from the marketplace that fail to meet minimum standards for environmental protection and waste reduction," Grogan adds.

Speaking at a product stewardship conference last year, Bell stated products and packaging in the year 2000 will be required to have a written assessment that shows they do not negatively impact the country's waste recovery systems. Products must be recyclable or reusable. Essentially, product manufacturers will be responsible for producing a mini-environmental impact statement.

Grogan says the EU commission also plans to work on market development, especially in the form of setting standards for recycled-content products. "Activities in this arena could include such things as establishing minimum requirements for government procurement, and setting up commodity exchanges for trading recyclables.

"Clearly, the European nations are attempting to tackle recycling and waste reduction on a scale never before attempted," writes Grogan. "It is clear that every citizen and every business within the borders of the new EU will over time become a participant in recycling. What is being planned, in addition to what has already taken place in the last few years, is likely to result in the largest waste reduction impact on the greatest number of the world's citizens ever."

The impacts will go beyond the borders of EU countries, Grogan says, in that product suppliers from North America and Asia will be required to comply with the laws. "Additionally, nations like Japan and Taiwan have already begun to replicate European packaging and recycling laws, and are likely to closely watch the results of these new EU initiatives."

Throughout the 1990s, European countries like Germany developed pioneering packaging and recycling legislation designed to increase recovery and reduce disposal. "It is now clear," Grogan writes, "that, with the formation of the EU, the goal will be to continue that momentum and attempt to significantly increase the recovery and maximize waste reduction."

Since there have been no continent-wide recycling related laws or coordinated programs of this magnitude in other areas of the world, Grogan concludes: "what is playing out in Europe is likely to be the largest recycling related social experiment in history. Without question, it is going to be fascinating to watch the results as the EU works to reduce waste and to develop end-use markets that stimulate business development."

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