International compliance: Keeping track of country specific requirements

Becky Thomas

Christmas is over for another year and already seems like a distant memory; however, waste associated with the festive period is currently being dealt with. Do you ever think about what happens to household waste or how the recycling system financially functions?

Producers’ part in the global recycling processes

It is commonly known that, in the UK, discarded packaging placed in household recycling containers is collected from kerbside by Local Authorities and sent for recycling or landfilled, depending on local facilities available. However, money to fund the process needs to come from somewhere.

Although system logistics vary between countries, the recycling of most packaging around products sold during the festive period and beyond is funded by retailers (manufacturers or brand holders). This is the same for all countries.

You may not have given the system much thought, past the point of sorting your own rubbish; however, there’s an important process happening in the background, which allows recycling to take place around the globe.

Producer responsibility – Country similarities and variances

Various recycling systems are in place across the world; however, in most countries where established producer responsibility legislation is in place, retailers are charged a compliance levy on the packaging they place on the market – meaning the weight and material of packaging placed in recycling bins is tracked, declared as placed on the market via a data submission form and retailers are subsequently charged fees, which help to fund the recycling systems.

It’s important to be aware that European legislation extends beyond packaging waste to encompass electrical goods and batteries placed on the market and that compliance levies, packaging and products in scope, as well as data submission requirements vary between countries, as these factors depend on different interpretations of the producer responsibility directives. For example, what is classed as packaging and what is classed as product may vary when comparing legislation requirements for different countries.

The following is an example of how interpretations can vary:

In France, a glass candle jar is classed as packaging. If the average weight of a candle jar is 250g, a retailer selling 10,000 candles will spend approximately €3,500 in compliance levies on this product alone. However, if a company sells the same candle in Italy, the jar is deemed to be part of the product and is therefore not classed as packaging.

To further confuse producers, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations are interpreted differently across Europe and the fees a retailer will pay depend on whether that country defines a product as electronic or electrical equipment (EEE). This is more often determined by whether the product needs electricity to fulfil its primary function. The revised EU Directive of 2012 intended to harmonise product scoping and extended the WEEE Regulations to cover all products with any type of electrical function; however, country variances remain.

Let’s look at an example of a children’s sound book. In Portugal and the Czech Republic, a sound book would be obligated, and compliance levies charged, whereas in Italy and Greece they do not consider the primary function to be electrical, meaning a sound book would not be obligated and a retailer would not pay any compliance levies on this product.

Data accuracy is key

The data submission and compliance process can be a minefield for retailers and producers, as rules around scoping often aren’t clear or written down. This means that compliance schemes and environmental authorities and agencies are frequently contacted for advice.

Even if it seems obvious whether a glass candle holder should be classed as packaging or not the definition can still vary, meaning research is key.

Getting data right is crucial, as inaccurate data can lead to producers over or under paying compliance levies and potentially facing non-compliance penalties.

Valpak can help

Does your company offer international shipping or export? If so, it may be obligated to comply with producer responsibility legislation in other countries. You can use our Obligation Assessment Tool to find out.

If you think your business has international compliance obligations and you are looking to outsource the compliance process, our International Compliance Team can help. We have over 8 years of experience scoping products across the world and can make the process easier by taking on the administrative burden of declaring data submissions.

If you are unsure if your business has international compliance obligations or would like to find out more about how we can help, please get in touch with one of our environmental compliance advisors today or request a copy of our International Compliance brochure.

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