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What’s the difference? Packaging waste compliance systems in Germany and the UK

What’s the difference? Packaging waste compliance systems in Germany and the UK
by Ellen Thornton at 10:43 in Packaging, Environmental

​The EU Directive 94/62/EC on Packaging and Packaging Waste of 1994, as amended, lays down measures to prevent production of packaging waste, reuse of packaging, recycling and other forms of recovering packaging waste and therefore reducing the final disposal of such waste. The majority of Member States have implemented this through extended producer responsibility (EPR) principles. This is where the producer is responsible for the costs of collection and environmentally sound disposal or recycling of packaging waste. Usually, producers are obligated to pay fees for the amount of packaging they place on the market, which incentivises them to reduce or use less costly packaging materials.

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In Germany, the packaging compliance system has been in place since 1991. In the system, obligated companies must ensure take back and recovery of packaging they have placed onto the market by participating in a dual system. The dual system is then responsible for collecting and recovering packaging waste. Producers pay fees to the dual system based on the amount and type of packaging they place on the market. The fee in turn pays for the collection and recovery of their share of packaging waste. The dual systems then report packaging quantities to the clearing office and the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (DIHK). However, in August last year, three of the d​​ual systems, Der Grüne Punkt, BellandVision and Interseroh released a statement to announce that they are terminating their clearing agreements. They stated that some systems are repeatedly failing to meet their obligations and that new clearing agreements ensure fair competition and an equitable transition to new German Packaging Act.

New legislation seeks to change and simplify the system so that all packaging quantities reported to a new central agency can be checked more easily at a single place. In order to ensure fair competition in Germany between compliance schemes and that there is consistent enforcement, a central office that is financed by the producers has been set up. Changes to the Packaging Act will come into force on 1st January 2019. The first notable change is the introduction of compulsory registration; manufacturers must register with the Central Office submitting their name, address, contact details, identification and tax registration numbers, brand names, etc. before bringing packaging to the market, otherwise sales will be prohibited. This must be done by the manufacturer and cannot be commissioned to third parties. Sales packaging will have a new definition now, as primary and secondary packaging that predominantly ends up as waste with the final consumer. Therefore, secondary packaging is now considered sales packaging. Shipping packaging for consumer goods i.e. online sales is now also clearly defined as sales packaging. Furthermore, higher material specific recycling rates have been set for 2019 and will increase in 2022.

Unlike in Germany where the producers are responsible for funding household collections as part of the dual system, in the UK the burden is mainly placed on local councils. Manufacturers, converters, pack fillers and retailers share the producer responsibility of recycling in the UK, but this only makes up a small portion of the household recycling system. In addition, this only becomes a responsibility when over 50 tonnes of packaging is placed on the market or the company's turnover exceeds £2 million. Whereas in Germany, producers are obligated from the first piece of packaging they place on the market. In the UK, the Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) system forms part of the producer responsibility obligations. Producers create packaging and sell it to the consumer. Packaging waste is collected, recovered and recycled by an accredited reprocessor, at this stage a PRN is generated and is awarded for the amount of recyclable material sorted in the UK or the whole amount of unsorted material if it is exported. Packaging compliance schemes can then buy the PRN to meet the producer's obligations. Packaging data and PRNs are submitted to the appropriate environment agency to demonstrate compliance with the Packaging Waste Regulations. PRNs are sold on an open market which means that prices fluctuate according to supply and demand. If there is a perceived shortage of PRNs, then prices will increase but if there is a perceived excess of PRNs then prices will decrease.

On 26th April the Plastics Pact was announced with 40 businesses having signed up, it includes voluntary aims to drive up recycling of plastics and greater use of recycled plastic material. Furthermore, as Michael Gove unveiled the pact, he also confirmed there will be changes to the Packaging Recovery Notes (PRN) system. This is expected as part of the Resources and Waste Strategy measures. The Secretary of State promised to "reform that scheme to levy those costs on those producing the packaging and reward those who recycle." Recently, the UK's Environment Audit Committee asked the National Audit Office to review the system due to concerns that it could be subject to fraud and non-compliance. The NAO found that due to a lack of follow-ups by the Environment Agency, at least 4.5% of obligated companies may not register under the scheme; businesses only pay £73 million towards the cost of recycling their packaging, but local authorities spend £700 million according to 2017 figures and estimates; there is a financial incentive for companies to fraudulently claim they have recycled packaging, particularly for plastic; the Environment Agency has low visibility and control over waste that is sold for recycling and is sent to landfill or littered; the Government has no evidence that the scheme has encourages companies to minimise packaging or make it easy to recycle.

If you have any questions about packaging waste compliance, please contact us to speak to on of our consultants. If you would like to read more articles and blogs like this one, please sign up to our free monthly digest.

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