Select Committee on European Communities Twelfth Report


Letter from Lord Geddes, Chairman of Sub-Committee B, to Richard Page, MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Businesses, Industry and Energy

12345/96 - Draft Directive on marking of packaging and on the establishment of a conformity assessment procedure for packaging   The above proposal was considered today by Sub-Committee B, to whom it was sifted for scrutiny.

  The Sub-Committee noted that the Commission's proposal involved the establishment of new symbols to designate reusable and recyclable packaging. While use of these symbols would be voluntary, Member States would be required to prohibit the use of existing symbols, including those that are widely used and recognised at present such as the "Mobius loop" symbol described in your EM. We would be interested to know whether serious consideration was given to the possibility of harmonising the use of existing symbols rather than introducing new ones. The Commission says that existing symbols are often privately owned and that "it is uncertain whether the EC would obtain the possibility to introduce them generally" (page 5, paragraph 5), but we would welcome clarification of whether there was found to be a serious problem of ownership in relation to the "Mobius loop" symbol. We would urge the Government to pursue this point with the Commission, whose proposal risks undermining public awareness of and interest in reuse and recycling, contrary to its stated aim.

  The Sub-Committee was also struck by the wide variation in the expected costs to industry of the proposed conformity assessment procedure, depending on whether this is to be applied to individual items or on a generic basis. We would be most interested to know whether you have obtained clarification on this point from the Commission.

  We shall maintain the scrutiny reserve for the time being, pending your reply.

20 February 1997

Letter from Richard Page MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Small Business, Industry and Energy, Department of Trade and Industry, to Lord Geddes, Chairman of Sub-Committee B

  Thank you for your letter of 20 February concerning the above proposal. I note the questions which the scrutiny committee have raised and hope that my response will clarify the situation.

  The two new symbols which are contained within this proposed Directive would, if adopted, represent the introduction of an entirely new system of marking. The Commission, in consultation with Member States, considered harmonising existing symbols in the early drafting stages, but were concerned about the large number of existing markings in the Member States, and the degree of consumer confusion as to their meaning. In consideration of this, the Commission proposed to opt for the introduction of an entirely new system of marking which would enable conformity to be established on a neutral basis.

  As part of the formulation of this proposal, discussions were held between the current owners of the "mobius loop", the European Portable Battery Association, and DGXI over the possibility of using this symbol. The main issue does not appear to be related to ownership of the symbol, but a lack of understanding, on behalf of the consumers, as to the meaning of the loop, where it is applied in different applications meaning either recycled or recyclable. This has been highlighted as a problem area in the current International Standards Organisation (ISO) discussions.

  In response to your question on the proposed conformity assessment procedure, I can confirm that my Department has been in contact with the Commission to try to obtain clarification as to whether it is proposed to apply the assessment at individual item or generic product level. The Commission recognise that further clarification is needed on this point, and have indicated that this will be included in the negotiations on the proposed Directive once they begin.

3 March 1997

Letter from Lord Geddes, Chairman of Sub-Committee to Richard Page, MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Businesses, Industry and Energy, Department of Trade and Industry

  Thank you for your letter of 3 March in reply to mine of 20 February.

  The Sub-Committee which considered your letter at its meeting this morning, was grateful for the clarification you were able to provide of the background to the Commission's proposals.

  You say that the obstacle to employing the "Mobius loop" symbol as a standard is more to do with public confusion as to its meaning than to problems of legal ownership, but you do not say what prospects there are for agreement on the use of this symbol as a world standard for either recycled or recyclable material. We would be interested to know what the Government's position in the ISO discussions is and whether they would prefer the Community to await the outcome of those ISO discussions before adopting its own, possibly incompatible, scheme.

  You also say you have sought clarification of whether the proposed conformity assessment procedure is intended to be applied on a generic or on an individual basis. We would urge you to press the Commission on this point, to ensure that the very much higher costs to industry of individual assessment can be avoided.

  This letter lifts the scrutiny reserve. I would be grateful if you could let me know in due course the outcome of negotiations, both in the Community and in the ISO.

20 March 1997

Letter from Richard Page, MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Small Business, Industry and Energy, Department of Trade and Industry to Lord Geddes, Chairman of Sub-Committee B

  Thank you for your letter of 20 March concerning the above proposal. I am pleased to hear that my response of the 3 March has clarified the background to the Commissions's proposals, and that the scrutiny reserve has been lifted.

  The group within the International Standards Organisation (ISO) who are discussing Environmental Labelling, is made up of over 40 international technical experts, who represent industry interests. Whilst there is no direct Government involvement in the discussions, UK industry representatives are members of the group. At the last meeting, which was held in San Francisco in January, it was clear that there were still outstanding differences in approach to the use of the Mobius Loop. The discussion has polarised between the North Americans and the Europeans, with the North Americans (USA and Canada) wanting the Mobius Loop to indicate that the product or packaging contains recycled material, and the Europeans (heavily influenced by the packaging industry) wanting the loop to indicate that a product or packaging is recyclable.

  Since the January meeting I am advised that there have been further consultations with aim of producing draft documents for discussion at the next ISO meeting in Japan at the end of April. It is impossible to foresee the outcome of these discussions at this point in time. It remains a possibility that the debate within ISO may continue for some considerable time in the future.

7 April 1997

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