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July 2, 2003 3:38 PM

British flowerpots are set to gain a new status after MEPs acted to correct a costly blunder that has piled unnecessary charges on nurseries and garden centres.

A surprise judgement by the High Court in January 2001 led to Britain being the only country in Europe to declare that flowerpots should be defined as packaging.

As a result they fell within the scope of the EU packaging directive intended to encourage the recycling of waste materials, imposing administrative headaches and costly calculations on specialist retailers.

The Barton Grange company, which operates six nurseries and garden centres in the North West of England, reckons it has cost the group 250 man hours and £5,500 per year just to keep statistics on pot usage and damage to meet the requirements of the law.

Managing director Guy Topping said: "The administration costs far exceed the recycling levy we have to pay. It really is a case of an over-bureaucratic law that has implications never considered when it was made."

But British flowerpots should soon join their continental counterparts in escaping the problem.

The European Parliament today (Wedneday) adopted an amendment to EU packaging law tabled by British Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies. It makes clear that materials accompanying products throughout their life will not be included, and specifically excludes flowerpots from the recycling law.

Mr Davies said: "Most people think of packaging as something that gets quickly thrown away and so should be recycled. But a pot plant won't survive very long if it's taken away from its flowerpot.

"Cellophane wrapping around a bunch of flowers is clearly packaging, but a flowerpot is an integral part of the product, and that's what we are making clear in the revised law.

"No-one else in Europe has had this difficulty. Those who blame the EU for every inconvenience will have to think again. This has been a home grown British problem from the very start."