What is the EU packaging waste directive?
As suggested by its name, the EU packaging waste directive (more precisely: “Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste”) is a directive by the European Union. It is designed to govern the recycling of packaging waste in the EU member states and was fundamentally amended in 2018 by “Directive (EU) 2018/852”.
The Directive itself does not mention e-commerce or online shopping. It regulates recycling quotas for different types of material and other aspects of packaging waste recycling within EU member states. It also manifests the principle of extended producer responsibility (short: EPR) within EU recycling schemes. This means that producers and sellers introducing packaging to the market are made responsible for the recycling of their packaging. Each member state had to enforce the EU packaging waste directive in their own national laws.
This results in 28 different laws (UK included), which then have an impact on cross-border e-commerce and distance sellers.
As mentioned before, the provisions of the EU packaging waste directive are embodied differently in each member state’s national legislation. The common principle is extended producer responsibility, which puts responsibility onto producers, importers and (online-) sellers. If you sell cross-border to customers of various EU member countries (e.g. by offering EU-wide or international shipping), you are likely obligated to join a compliance scheme, license your packaging or pay an environmental tax in each state – or at least in some of them. Depending on the country, there may be exceptions in place. For instance, small e-commerce businesses with low sales volumes may be excluded. Or those which introduce only small quantities of packaging to the market. But these exceptions differ by country and often by material type. There are often lower thresholds for ecologically harmful material, such as plastics. In many countries, online shops have obligations to join a compliance scheme from the first package shipped. And sometimes even before shipping at all, if shipping is just offered on the website. If you want to find out about your obligations and how to fulfill them, we gladly provide our assistance. You can book our digital service from just 19.99€ per country.
Our video shows the most important implication of the EU packaging waste directive for online shops
Irrespective of any minimum thresholds, there is one task you definitely should be aware of.
In any case, you should take exact record of your packaging quantities – that includes number of packages as well as weight of packaging – shipped to each country. Quantities should also be split by type of material. For instance, how much paper, plastics, metals, etc. is introduced to each country through your e-commerce activities.
This is particularly important to be able to assess whether there are obligations for recycling for your e-commerce business or not. And your records are important as proof that you fulfill your obligations in case of an audit – which can happen at any time. Some states will obligate you to provide annual declarations of your packaging data, even when you are below minimum quantities for joining recycling compliance schemes.
Many e-commerce businesses underestimate their packaging quantities in export markets.
The principle of extended producer responsiblity introduced by the EU packaging waste directive generally obligates the party which first places packaging on the market for its recycling.
In their own country, online retailers are therefore usually only obligated to license their transport packaging (including filling material etc.) with compliance schemes. This is because the producer is the obligated party for their product. So any product- or sales packaging should already be licensed by the producer. (Exception: if you import products from abroad and sell them in your country, you as the importer are also responsible for the product packaging.)
However, if online retailers ship their goods cross-border to customers abroad, they are regarded as the party which first places the product on the market. And therefore they are responsible for all packaging – that is transport- as well as product-packaging. Thus, the packaging quantities abroad are oftentimes underestimated and underreported, which can result in penalties. Keep this in mind when calculating and licensing your packaging quantities.
The European Commission has plans to reform the packaging directive in 2021.
A reform of the EU packaging waste directive is scheduled for late 2021. The reformed directive will then again have to be implemented by each member state in the following years. This is likely to impact regulations for e-commerce as well, although it is not yet clear what these changes will be. Due to rising recycling quotas and ambitious goals to reduce the ecological impact of packaging in the EU, we expect stricter measures for cross-border e-commerce. The European Commission is asking for feedback from stakeholders by 6 January 2021 via their online portal. Any company from within the EU can participate. We urge all – especially small – e-commerce businesses to join us in giving feedback to reduce the bureaucratic burden for international sales.
By the way: With our subscription-based compliance-service, we always keep you up-to-date about your personal recycling obligations – even when laws and regulations change or as your business grows.
What about non-EU countries? Are there any regulations similar to the EU packaging waste directive?
Yes. Some non-EU countries do have similar laws in place for online retailers. They make them responsible for the recycling of any packaging waste generated by shipping to customers in those countries. We therefore offer our service for e-commerce businesses selling to Norway, Switzerland or the United Kingdom as well.
Do not hesitate to contact us in case you have any questions. Or directly purchase our Europe-wide compliance service. You will get all information needed for your online shop, on how to license your packaging sustainably with recycling compliance schemes to fulfill your obligations from the EU packaging waste directive or other national packaging waste laws.