We are all used to standards: you can consult your bank account, withdraw money from a cash dispenser or go shopping around the world with just your credit card because it is ‘standardised’ and follows international protocols. Similarly, the plumber can buy a PVC pipe for drinking water in Finland and it will fit a PVC valve bought in Italy because their diameters have been standardised according to a European standard – in this case EN 1452.
We can find another good example of standardization in packaging. In order to comply with legislation, a plastic packaging item –bottle, tray, film, etc- meant to be in contact with foodstuff has to demonstrate that it is safe for consumers use. The only way to demonstrate this is by adhering to a standard. This standard describes the test method for, e.g., the determination of overall migration of substances from the packaging into a food stimulant, for example olive oil.
But plastics cover almost every application we can imagine so our materials and products are affected and come under many standardization activities. From very specific ones, like the examples already given, to more general ones, like the carbon footprint of products.
Standards are developed as voluntary agreements, made in an open and transparent way and are the result of consensus. Typically standards exist at three levels: National, European and International.
At the European level, legislation impacting our industry is driven more and more by the EU and requires transposition at the national level (Parliament/Council) – 65% of new laws come from Brussels.
A new regulatory strategy has been introduced by the Council Resolution of 1985 on the "New Approach” to technical harmonization and standardization. The New Approach relies on mandates from the European Commission to the European standardization bodies CEN, CENELEC and ETSI giving these standards legally binding power or making them compulsory. That is one of the reasons for the importance of being involved in the standard making-process.
Public concern around environmental, safety and health issues has grown enormously and has influenced policy and regulation. The European Commission wants to involve all stakeholders in order to integrate environmental aspects into European Standardization. This position has resulted in a greater involvement of consumers and environmental NGOs. This is another reason to be attentive to standardization and to provide the proper industry input.
Not only at the European, but also at a global level, business to business relations are based on agreements which conform to international standards, as e.g. in the automotive and E&E sectors, fire safety issues or for publicp. This is another reason to be involved in standardization.
Standardization has always been a complex matter to coordinate from a global perspective. Each of the three levels of standardization: International, European and National are very important but have to be approached differently.
Now, with the incorporation of new member states into the European Union, the standardization playing field is broadening and offers more chances for the plastics industry but which, at the same time, needs to be better organized: participation of companies in national standardization bodies, creation of national mirror groups etc. PlasticsEurope, being aware of the relevance, standardization has, for the industry, has created the Standardization Working Group to identify relevant standardization issues and to encourage participation of the members.