Last month the European parliament confirmed that the minimum recycling target for packaging waste would be raised from 25 to 55 per cent by 2008, to cut "the amount of discarded packaging that pollutes the environment".The new targets will oblige manufacturers and packaging companies to recycle materials discarded by households, instead of relying solely on waste from industrial and commercial premises.But local authorities are reluctant to collect used packaging on industry's behalf, unless they receive extra payments.
Making local authorities responsible for collection "lets producers off the hook", said Alice Roberts, at the Local Government Association. "The taxpayer pays and the producer does not."
But some sectors of industry, notably glass and aluminium, will also come under financial pressure as a result of the targets. Last June, the government's advisory committee on packaging reported "growing concern" in industry.
The latest set of recycling targets are too demanding, according to Incpen, the industry council for packaging and the environment. "We should recycle when it is resource-efficient to do so. It is counterproductive to go as high as we are beginning to go," said Jane Bickerstaffe, director. "The basic problem is we have allowed recycling to be dictated by Brussels. It should be done on a local level." She said it was inappropriate for rural areas, which would use extra energy to collect materials for recycling, to have the same targets as cities.
The argument over collection costs is particularly acute for lightweight packaging such as plastic, aluminium and steel since these will make little contribution to meeting the local authority's own recycling targets, which are weight-based.
"One of our big concerns is that local authorities will meet their targets through paper and green waste alone" said British Glass, a trade association.
The aluminium sector is lobbying for local authorities to be given some sort of responsibility for meeting the packaging requirements. "We are hopeful that we will win this battle but it won't happen automatically," said Alupro, the UK aluminium recycling organisation.
The reluctance of local authorities to collect lightweight packaging is likely to result in spare capacity in some recycling facilities, such as a newly commissioned paper mill in Fife, Scotland, that can recycle 20 per cent of the UK's cartons. "We feel we have done our bit in helping the recycling capacity to be established," said Richard Hands of Tetra Pak UK, the carton manufacturer. "The industry cannot afford to fund collection schemes across the UK."
The UK's approach to packaging recycling, which relies on tradeable certificates, is viewed as one of the most cost-effective in Europe. But reaching the 2008 targets is likely to impose much higher costs, rising from its current level of £100m a year to £300m-£400m, according to Ian Dent, chief executive of the Packaging Federation.
The regime requires companies, which have a turnover of more than £2m and handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging a year, to pay for a certain proportion of the recycling.