The EU should move quickly to introduce clearer regulation on the use of recycled plastic for food packaging, said an industry body.
Beverage makers need such clarity so they can use recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) in bottles, said Salvatore Gabola, the chairman of the European Organisation for Packaging and the Environment (Europen).
Such a proposal has been under discussion with regulators for years. Clearer regulations would improve the environmental profile of bottles and offer a much-needed and huge end-market for recycled PET, he said yesterday.
In addition to being Europen's chairman he is also Coca-Cola Europe's director for public affairs.
"Define once and for all what are the health and technical criteria to be fulfilled and you will see a major boost in recycling activities for this polymer," said Gabola.
In the hard-hitting speech Gabola sought to take preventative action against governments tempted to impose taxes on packing waste.
He called on governments to stop using environmental concerns as a cover for raising more taxes.
There is nothing that irritates me more than political proposals on packaging waste, for example new packaging tax measures patently aimed at simply filling a hole in the budget, loudly flagged as a response to the 'growing packaging waste mountain'," said Gabola.
In addition to being Europen's chairman, Gabola is also Coca-Cola Europe's director for public affairs.
The food industry is a major user of packaging and producer of waste. Taxes and other punitive measures would end up making their packaging more expensive, putting a squeeze on operating margins.
The packaging sector and industries such as food manufacturing have often teamed up to fight such measures, which EU member states are considering as a means of meeting the EU's regulations aimed at cutting packaging waste.
Gabola called on governments to base political debate about packaging and
packaging waste on facts, and to stop hiding tax-raising measures behind environmental rhetoric.
In particular he was taking aim at measures such as Germany's deposit scheme for non-refillable drinks containers, which he claimed had failed to cut waste.
He pointed out that packaging waste represents just 17 per cent of municipal solid waste and that this share is shrinking every year.
Similarly, packaging manufacturing and consumption currently causes 2 per cent of the overall EU's CO2 emissions.
Europen estimates that the recovery and recycling of packaging waste, which saves around 25 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, is offsetting a large, and probably growing, part of that output.
"None of these facts should justify inaction," Gabola told delegates. However legislators should not take "draconian actions" that would be costly for consumers and a bad investment in terms of the results they could deliver.
"Let's not imitate the absurd scenario in a well-known Woody Allen joke, where he describes a far-flung galaxy millions of light-years away from earth, but then adds that a new highway is being planned which would reduce the journey by half an hour," he said.
Gabola called on legislators to build on the current EU waste reduction framework, which he claims is working well. He said it should continue to focus on recycling, prevention and a smooth operation of the internal trading market.
Europen said supports the European Commission's conclusion that this is the moment for consolidation and not to increase the recycling targets.
Europen also supports a regulatory move away from mandatory target setting and favours the application of "tough and revolutionary rules in the marketplace", he said.
Europen supports the idea that market operators should be told that they should reduce to a minimum the weight of packaging, having considered what is needed to avoid product spoilage, transportation and other essential functions that packaging performs.
If they don't, that packaging should not be allowed on the market, Gabola said.
"The good news is that these revolutionary rules - unheard of in other countries around the world nor, for that matter, in other market sectors in our continent - already exist in Europe," he said.
Europen's complaint is that most national public authorities have not really been enforcing the requirements, with only the Czech Republic, France and the UK putting an enforcement mechanism in place.
Europen will continue to urge the Commission to ensure their enforcement takes place.
"We do not need a different tool - we need to implement what we have and improve it where necessary," he said.
He said the EU's packaging waste laws could be used to thwart the free flow of goods in the internal market.
Many national initiatives seemingly not motivated by environmental ideals, but rather by the desire to protect local companies from competition or simply to raise taxes, Gabola said.
"Europe needs to be not only an ambitious, environment-minded playing field, but a level playing field for all players," he said.