Waste management: time for radical change

The new waste management system should include extended producer responsibility.

Publikacja: 06.12.2018 16:10

Waste management: time for radical change

Foto: Burning garbage heap of smoke from a burning pile of garbage

According to the well-known saying „every stick has two ends”, everything has good and bad sides. The same rule applies also to the packaging that we use to protect food and other products, which, after fulfilling its function, becomes waste.

Used packaging, which has not been properly collected and processed, decomposes in the environment, even for several hundred years. Properly segregated waste gains value in households, but this requires a lot of work, financial investment and the use of advanced technology. Thanks to this, the waste produced by us has a chance of „gaining new life” and getting back on the shop shelves as a packaging or another, equally practical product.

Obligations of citizens and companies

This is what is known as closing the loop in a new model of circular economy. There is one conclusion: each of us can contribute to the development of circular economy, because, as we all know, recycling starts at home! Sorting waste is everyone’s responsibility, but what do packaging manufacturers have to do with it?

Few people are aware that according to the provisions of the Waste Directive amended in 2018 (Articles 8 and 8a) not only the municipalities, but also the producers who pack their products are responsible for ensuring that waste from packaging is collected selectively and then recycled or recovered in some other way.

In Poland, entrepreneurs introducing products in packaging onto the market pay the lowest rates in Europe to waste recovery organizations. According to Deloitte’s estimates, these fees are even several hundred times lower than in Western Europe. For several years now, the recycling industry has been appealing to the Ministry of the Environment to level the playing field for Polish recycling through the introduction of real financial responsibility of entrepreneurs for the collection and processing of packaging they have placed on the market.

We all know that the problem of financing the recycling of packaging waste is a significant barrier to the development of the industry. Now, however, Poland is facing the necessity to implement the assumptions of circular economy into its economic model as well as to introduce changes in the law in order to adjust to the EU regulations. The topic is very up-to-date  –  for several months now the Ministry of Enterprise and Technology has been preparing a document of strategic importance  –  „Roadmap for the transformation towards a closed-loop economy”. The project will indicate where the use of secondary raw materials will increase significantly.

In the public awareness, the problem of waste began in the spring of 2018, when the „ecological bomb” broke out, i.e. several dozen fires in warehouses, where, among other things, plastic packaging waste burned. For the first time in the history of Poland, such a seemingly unimportant subject as rubbish was brought to the attention of the Prime Minister himself. „Fires in landfills are not a local problem, it is a serious social problem, related to the environment and health protection”, said Mateusz Morawiecki. Despite the fact that in most cases warehouses where waste is pre-prepared for recycling were burning, the whole industry was accused of negligence and dishonest actions.

Problem diagnosis

The difficult situation on the market motivated the members of the Polish Recycling Association to analyse in detail the packaging waste management system and attempt to diagnose the existing problems. Undoubtedly, the growing amount of waste is a difficult subject, but the society cannot escape from it. The way in which municipal waste management is carried out at local level has a direct impact not only on the population, but also on the entire ecosystem in which we live, including wildlife and plants. Therefore, together with the consulting company PwC, the association prepared a report „Management of municipal packaging waste in a closed loop. Review of the system and proposal of a new solution”. Its publication in October provided an opportunity for a broad discussion among stakeholders in the packaging industry, including producers, recyclers, recovery organizations, representatives of local governments and RIPOK managers. Everyone agrees that changes in the system are needed, but they must be preceded by consultations with a wide range of interested parties.

The report proposes a new packaging waste management system that takes into account the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPC) assumptions. The provisions of the Directive oblige producers to cover all the costs of waste management for the products they place on the market, including the costs of separate collection, sorting, transport and treatment after taking into account revenues from the reuse or sale of secondary raw materials from their products. Under the new system, it will be necessary to set the level of packaging fees, which are intended to finance the collection and recycling of waste. However, the rates must vary according to the type and material of packaging. According to the report, these funds should be managed by an institution which will ensure their fair distribution and will exercise proper control over the use of subsidies granted to entrepreneurs for waste treatment.

It seems that introducing changes to the system is only a matter of time. The only question that remains is what model will be adopted by the Ministry of the Environment and how companies will fulfil their obligations to cover the costs of management of packaging waste introduced to the market.

Entrepreneurs must be aware that by signing an agreement with a packaging waste recovery organization, they take responsibility for how the organization fulfils the assumed obligations, and the packaging fee should by definition cover the actual costs of waste processing, as it is the case in other EU countries.

The author is the president of the Polish Recycling Association.

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