Sustainable industrial policy: biodegradable and compostable polymers
In its Communication COM(2002) 412 final [65 KB] the Commission encourages the use of Environmental Agreements (EA) and has outlined the necessary terms and conditions for their success. Generally, EA are not a substitute for legislative actions by the Community. However, under certain circumstances they can be an effective instrument to quickly tackle environmental problems. They require a proactive involvement of industry concerned and thereby contribute to the sustainable development objectives. The Communication also details the various degrees of the Commission's involvement. One way is by simply acknowledging, however not negotiating, an industry EA; another, deeper involvement would result in the issuing of a Commission Recommendation that might be accompanied by a Parliament and Council Decision on monitoring. An example for that latter involvement is the ACEA agreement between the Commission and the European car industry sector on the limitation of specific carbon dioxide emissions from motor cars. So far however, only a few EA have been proposed on the European level.
An environmental agreement in the form of a unilateral industry self-commitment
A consortium of companies producing biodegradable and compostable polymers for a variety of products mainly used for packaging have decided to voluntarily commit themselves to observe certain production standards that would guarantee that the environmental performance of the polymers complies with internationally agreed technical specifications, thereby enhancing consumer confidence, lowering environmental impacts and contributing to sustainable development in industrial production. More particularly it is aimed at fostering sector level compliance with European standards on composting of packaging waste that resulted from standardisation work mandated by the Commission (such as EN 134132), and it conforms to the criteria laid down in the Commission's Communication on Environmental Agreements.
The unilateral industry self-commitment [3 MB] has been negotiated among companies using renewable as well as fossil raw materials as feedstock for their production. DG Enterprise and Industry played a facilitating role through its informal working group on renewable raw materials for industry. There are no plans by the Community to introduce legislation in this area. The unilateral self-commitment represents a pro-active move by industry underlining that environmental and economic benefits are not mutually exclusive. It will further encourage the development of biodegradable and compostable polymers and products and could open new avenues for waste management and recycling, representing an important step in the direction of sustainable development in industry.
This EA is not a response by stakeholders to pending legislation nor was it initiated by the Commission and therefore the depth of the Commission's involvement is limited. The adequate response by the Commission to what the Communication calls and EA based on a spontaneous decision by stakeholders is an exchange of letters between the Commission or Commission services and the industry concerned. That way this self-commitment was acknowledged by the Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry. The acknowledgement by DG Enterprise and Industry does not constitute any kind of engagement or commitment, neither by the service concerned nor by the Commission as a whole.
For further details, please read:
- Explanatory Memorandum [296 KB] to the self-commitment
- Exchange of Letters between Mr Wittmeyer, General Secretary of the European Renewable Resources and Material Association (ERRMA) and Mr Reichenbach, Director-General of Enterprise and Industry DG:
- Letter by Mr Wittmeyer to Mr Reichenbach (17.11.2004)
- Answer by Mr Reichenbach to Mr Wittmeyer (13.01.2005)
- Press release (14.02.2005): "Environmentally friendly plastic: Commission welcomes voluntary industry commitment"