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What is packaging?

January 27, 2009

The European Union’s latest Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste imposes penalties on converters and end users who fail to reduce or recycle their packaging. However, not everyone agrees on what constitutes packaging, and in particular whether release liner for pressure sensitive labels falls within the scope of the directive. Most national governments have so far dithered, much to the relief of their label industries. But Britain, where the ecology movement is particularly vocal, has decreed that liner is an integral part of the label, and hence is “packaging” in the terms of the directive.

The British situation could pose problems for the UK’s label industry, says a recent report, because “it will make a huge difference to the amount UK label converters will have to pay. If the new definition continues to apply to the UK alone then they will be at a serious competitive disadvantage to the rest of Europe.” There is no doubt that pressure could grow for harmonization of the new definition of release liner waste across Europe, which would mean substantial extra costs to be met by label end users (who will smilingly “invite” their label suppliers to pay their share). Just to put the problem in perspective, in Europe liner waste alone amounts to some 250,000 tons per year. As a material it is recyclable, but the silicone coating plus frequent traces of adhesive make it unattractive for many recycling solutions. Dutch recycling specialist Jacques van Leeuwen has for many years taken a pro-active approach to label waste recycling, but admits that so far he has been shouting into the wind. It is clear that so long as there are no legal sanctions to encourage innovative packaging recycling, incineration and landfill will remain the least costly solutions.

The label association FINAT has also, surprisingly, decided to step back from actively promoting new waste solutions for liner and matrix waste, but will merely “serve the passive information needs of its members.” However, the association will continue to participate at the political level in the European Recovered Paper Council, and has given its support to a scheme to turn used release liners into paper hand towels.