Why there is no such thing as Europe-wide packaging compliance

We receive enquiries on a daily basis from companies who sell their products across Europe, looking for a “one stop shop” for international packaging compliance. Unfortunately, life is not so simple.

By way of background, in 1994 the EU issued the Packaging Directive. Each EU Member State was asked to transpose the Directive into national law and the result is a cornucopia of systems and requirements.

Each country has adopted a slightly different approach in achieving the aims of the Directive - namely to ensure that packaging placed on the national market is safely recycled, and that producers who place such packaging on the market should fund the cost of this recycling.

Why so many different approaches? The difficulty arises in the fact that the Packaging Directive did not contain a definition of “producer", unlike the WEEE and Batteries Directives which were more explicit in defining who was responsible for funding the cost of waste electricals and batteries.

In some countries for example, the original manufacturer might be classified as a producer, whereas in others it is the national retailer. Further nuances may depend on whose branding is on the product that reaches the end consumer. There is unfortunately no single, unified approach.

A disparate set of systems

To give an example of how complex a seemingly simple situation can get, let's take a UK manufacturer who ships the exact same products in the exact same packaging to Belgium, France and Denmark to be sold by retailers in each country, with the transaction taking place in the UK. In Belgium, the law states that it’s the national retailer placing those products on the market for consumers to buy that needs to comply.

In France, it’s very different – if the UK manufacturer’s branding is on the packaging that ends up as French household waste and they have a physical presence in the country, it’s irrelevant that it’s sold by a retailer, or that the transaction took place in the UK – the manufacturer must comply. Effectively, the focus in France is on the branding, not who is selling it.

And Denmark? Well, they may have a deposit return scheme and a tax for some packaging types, but they don’t have comprehensive laws… compliance is effectively voluntary for some packaging.

Even this example is deliberately over-simplified to demonstrate the disparate set of systems exist and why it is important to seek expert advice.

Further complications exist regarding the labelling of packaging. Some countries are part of the Green Dot system, whilst others have their own recycling symbols, the licencing for which often forms part of your compliance fees.

Be wary of an easy solution

If you are looking for a one-stop solution to Europe-wide compliance, the bad news is that it doesn’t exist and you should be wary of any scheme or consultant suggesting otherwise. 

You should be suspicious of companies offering to register you across Europe for packaging compliance. In some EU Member States, the packaging authorities will not accept third party registrations and you will need to sign up yourself and submit your data.

Help is at hand

The good news is that there is help available - for example we have the expertise and contacts in each country to help you achieve compliance, after first establishing whether or not in fact you are the obligated party in the supply chain.  Just be aware that the registration and submissions may need to be submitted by you.

For a free assessment and advice on your obligations, please fill in our handy questionnaire by clicking here and we will be in touch with our recommendations.

Katie Nairne

International project manager

Katie manages our expert international compliance services to help ensure our members are compliant with recycling legislation overseas. She has a sharp pair of eyes too, having previously qualified not only as a chartered legal executive but also in PRINCE2 and APM project management. When the devil is in the detail, Katie ensures nothing is missed!

Written by Katie Nairne Published 17/01/2019 Topics International
Get in touch