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Global standardization around sustainable packaging

A movement toward globalization and harmonized standards around sustainability initiatives is coalescing within the international community, spurred on by standards-writing organizations across the world.

Each national entity has interests in controlling the amount and type of packaging entering its communities and the effect it will have on its local environment. Each entity has its own way of dealing with these effects and thus has taken a parochial view of how to control packaging and packaging waste within its borders.

However, international commerce can be hindered if companies are forced to comply with multiple regional regulations and standards. In an effort to encourage trade and minimize the burden of conducting business on a global basis, the “movement” has recently come together within the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) to begin the work of harmonizing standards related to packaging and the environment.

The European Union has regulated packaging through its Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive for many years. Annex II of the Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste lays down Essential Requirements, and all packaging placed on the market in the European Economic Area must comply with it. Member states may not impede the placing of packaging on the market that meets these requirements. These Essential Requirements can be summed up as follows:

• Packaging and packaging waste weight and volume should be minimized to the amount needed for safety and acceptance of the packed product
• Noxious and other hazardous constituents of the packaging should have minimum impact on the environment at end of life
• Packaging should be suitable for material recycling, energy recovery, composting, or reuse, if reuse is intended

In support of the Directive and the Essential Requirements, the European Commission mandated CEN (the European Committee for Standardization) to develop a series of standards. When packaging complies with the provisions of these standards, it is deemed to be in compliance with the Essential Requirements of the Directive and must not be impeded in the market. The Directive and the associated umbrella standards address packaging waste, source reduction, heavy metals exclusion, dangerous substance removal, reusability, and recycling, along with energy and organic recovery. If ignored, the consequences could be as great as having your product denied access to the EU, including legal challenges. However, noncompliance to the directive is the responsibility of the enforcement agency. If embraced, the EU Packaging Directives encourage a change in company culture to bring about packaging sustainability.

The harmonization effort is taking place within a new ISO subcommittee formed last summer called Technical Committee (T2) 122, Sub Committee (SC) 4 (ISO/TC122/SC4); “Packaging and the environment.”

In a statement after the first meeting of the subcommittee in Stockholm in December 2009, chairman Anders Linde of Sweden said, “It was a successful meeting where we agreed that a series of ISO standards should be developed. There is a great demand for standards that give guidance on how the use of resources can be minimized, while maintaining the function of the packaging and how used packaging can be recovered. In addition, harmonized global standards on packaging will be an important instrument to support the free movement of products and international trade. The standards will be based on the existing CEN standards... as well as on Asian guidelines that have been developed in support of national regulatory objectives. The goal of SC4 is to harmonize all standards and guidelines into the series of ISO international standards by 2012.”

Although the U.S. has been absent in its development of standards related to packaging sustainability, there is strong interest within corporations and NGOs to participate in the harmonization efforts. The U.S. formed a delegation to attend the Stockholm meeting and will develop a formal structure through the ANSI Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) and in conjunction with the Material Handling Association (MH10). Committees will be formed consisting of experts who will prepare the U.S. position on the documents presented by TC122/SC4.

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