The packaging law in France is a substantial factor for compliance not only for French companies, but also for cross-border e-commerce. In accordance with the EU packaging waste directive, any business that sells packaged goods to French end-consumers needs to register their packaging with a French recycling scheme. We have summarized the most important aspects of the French packaging law in this article.
The packaging law in France: recycling obligations for e-commerce
Why must packaging be registered for recycling in France?
We are frequently being asked by online retailers why they must register their packaging with a recycling scheme in France. Particularly if they have already obtained a German packaging license. However, the reason is rather self-evident. By licensing packaging, manufacturers, importers, and retailers make a financial contribution towards the organization of a nation-wide recycling system. Since the recycling schemes are limited by state borders, the license is required where the packaging ends up as waste. If a product is sold cross-border to a consumer in France, its packaging must also be recycled in France. Hence, the contribution must be payed to a French recycling scheme and not in its country of origin.
Unfortunately, the governments of the EU have not yet managed to create a unified recycling scheme for the whole European Single Market. Therefore, a packaging license must be obtained in France as well as in all other EU member states separately. This obviously leads to a lot of frustration among e-commerce businesses which sell internationally, as it increases the bureaucratic burden for compliance management by quite a bit. We have consequently created a digital compliance service to assist online retailers across Europe.
Who must license packaging in France?
Whoever sells cross-border to consumers in France needs to fulfill the same rules as a French business would and must register with a French recycling scheme. The packaging law in France therefore applies to German, Austrian, UK, or even American and Chinese companies as well. Registration is compulsory from the first package shipped to France. The only exception would be for pure B2B-retailers outside of France, as in this case the French importer takes over the obligation for registration.
Characteristics of the French packaging law
There is a preference for sustainable packaging defined by the French packaging law. In practice, businesses pay less for the recycling of particularly recyclable packaging. The same goes for when it is made of recycled material.
This special rule, however, only affects sellers of large quantities. In order to reduce the bureaucratic burden for smaller companies, there is a flat charge of 80€ in place for anyone that sells no more than 10,000 products to France annually. Unfortunately, this makes participation in a French recycling scheme uneconomical for businesses that only sell a hand full of packages to France. Non-compliance, on the other hand, bears a certain risk for legal consequences.
“Identifiant Unique” (Unique Identification Number) as proof of compliance
From 2022, the French environmental agency ADEME provides a “Identifiant Unique” (Unique Identification Number) to all companies that are compliant with the French recycling laws. The Identifiant Unique can be obtained from the French recycling schemes where you license your packaging. Amazon, for instance, requires this number from its sellers to verify that sellers are compliant. This obligation for marketplaces such as Amazon arises due to the market surveillance regulation of the EU. They must ensure that sellers on the platform abide by the laws. Sellers without the Identifiant Unique will therefore be blocked from selling on Amazon.
Labelling obligations for packaging in France
While it is still mandatory in some EU member states to use the green dot symbol on packaging, this rule has been obsolete in France for a few years already. However, in 2015 a decree to the French waste law has introduced a recycling symbol specific to recyclable packaging in France. Foreign companies must use it, too, if they sell to French customers. We have summarized all information regarding the French recycling symbol in this article:
However, there are going to be some changes to the labelling obligations as early as 2021. It is therefore recommendable to always stay up to date with the help of a compliance consultant.
Recycling in France
Similar to Germany and most other OECD countries, packaging waste is collected separately and ends up in a recycling stream. The same goes for electronics, glass, and textiles, which all have separate containers or collection sites. The French recycling system is currently under immense pressure from increasing recycling quotes enforced by EU circular economy legislation as well as the French government’s own ambitious target to recycle almost 100% of all plastics by 2025. According to statistics, only 25% were recycled in previous years.
With the principle of “extended producer responsibility” stipulated by the French packaging law, the recycling system is primarily financed by companies that place packaged goods on the market. Similar systems exist for electronics, batteries, textiles, or furniture in France. Just like packaging, these items must be registered with the responsible institutions and recycling schemes. Manufacturers, importers, and retailers then pay a recycling fee which depends on the annual quantities. Due to the increase of recycling quotas mentioned before, we also expect the pressure for e-commerce businesses to rise in the coming years as well.
Save time on bureaucracy with our packaging compliance service
We assist your compliance management with our digitized service. It allows you to get all the information you need for handling your recycling obligations in France and all other EU member countries. You will receive step-by-step manuals and recommended recycling-schemes, all tailored towards your business needs, and all in one place. If you do not have any internal capacities, you can even outsource compliance management altogether with our Premium Service. In case of any questions, please feel free to contact us or read through our FAQ.