Pacoon has now published a 42-page compendium on the different registration regulations for packaging in a total of 31 countries. How do you come up with the idea of dealing with such regulations from Romania to Ireland and from Denmark to Greece?
After all, we were already monitoring the international packaging disposal situation in 2018 and inspired some market players to look at the recyclability of packaging by country and their disposal infrastructure. We have also already supported companies to properly register and license their products when the Packaging Act came into force in Germany. Many countries have now followed suit, increasing the pressure on companies to register, license and label their products in accordance with the rules. This has created an opportunity for us to pool our knowledge and offer this service to companies.
How did you go about researching the regulations – and what surprised you most about the regulations in different countries?
On the one hand, the research itself was relatively time-consuming; on the other hand, most of the information was already available in many places. For us, it was important that the information was correct and up-to-date, and that it could also be presented in a short and concise manner. Nobody finds it pleasant to read pages and pages of legal texts in umpteen different languages. Therefore, the visual presentation was very important to us in order to make it easy to grasp. Fortunately, we also have many network partners who helped us review the information from their daily work. What still doesn't really make sense to us is the fact that Europe – both EU and non-EU – is having such a hard time creating a uniform solution.
Everyone is tinkering with their own thing instead of relying on established, uniform solutions and developing them further. And when labels that are explicitly prescribed by one country are banned in another, it's enough to make you shake your head. And when retail chains add their own labels to the mix, things get even funnier. The fact that the USA basically has the same multitude of regulations and laws as the EU makes things particularly complicated. We have therefore concentrated on the national requirements for the time being, otherwise it would take even longer.
Why does the market actually need such a compendium?
The EU countries are obliged to implement the EU regulations, which means that new regulations are imposed on distributors every year. Those who do not register and license correctly risk severe penalties. Therefore, it is helpful to be able to quickly check which obligations exist in the sales markets. And with our partner Certify, we then also immediately offer the possibility of commissioning a partner for registration and licensing in the respective countries.
What impact do you think this fragmentation of regulations has on the development of packaging – and on manufacturers' sustainability efforts?
Regulations, after all, are only the aspect of how companies must register and license packages. Much more important for packaging development are licensing costs and existing disposal infrastructures in countries. We see clear trends in where the packaging market is heading. Companies are naturally trying to follow these trends. This then leads to the solutions for the packaging. Therefore, the regulations only have a real impact if the respective country is very important for the companies. If, for example, an important sales country decides to ban certain packaging or dramatically raises licensing costs – such as the EU tax of €800 per ton of non-recyclable plastic packaging – then this can of course cause a company to rethink its packaging.
What would need to be done to harmonize regulations, at least within the EU – and doesn't this also require harmonization of waste management systems?
Of course, it would be very helpful if the waste management systems were harmonized. Recycling itself does not differ from country to country. But the way there is still very fragmented. Even more important, however, is a uniform system for valuable recycling, i.e., the actual recovery of resources. And a reward system when a company uses eco-friendly packaging. The assessment also involves more than just the CO2 value or the recyclate usage rate. We also need to look at the damage to nature that occurs when packaging is disposed of incorrectly, the packaging theoretically needs to be tracked to punish the polluters.
Can a European solution ever be found for these regulations?
Surely it is possible, but as with all EU issues, we are talking about 27 countries, all with different origins, statuses and mentalities. Even here in front of the agency, I see people in the street again and again who simply throw their packaging, handkerchiefs or pieces of paper on the street. Not to mention the illegal garbage dumps in nature. As with all political decisions, it first requires the intention of national governments to give up a piece of autonomy to the EU. Therefore, I believe that it is theoretically possible, but practically highly doubtful that we will see this in the next few years. That's why we should adapt as best we can to the regulations that currently prevail, orient ourselves to the best cases that will also be pioneers for other countries, and work in parallel to develop and implement more sustainable packaging concepts. Those who only seek the path of least resistance will automatically end up in an entrepreneurial vacuum until they run out of steam.
Thank you very much for the interview!