Finland is in the process of integrating the EU waste regulation package into national legislation. One of the long-awaited targets is to have producer responsibility also cover distance selling. The waste act that was circulated for comment at the beginning of summer will be processed by Parliament in the autumn and enacted in early 2021.
Distance selling, which has grown significantly in recent years, has been left outside producer responsibility with the exception of producers of electronic and electrical equipment. In practice, this has meant that international online retailers, for example, have had an unfounded competitive advantage at the expense of domestic operators, because they have not had to participate in the costs of national collection and recycling systems. The Waste Act reform is, indeed, a welcome change, because distance selling free-riders are a significant threat to the functionality and credibility of the producer responsibility system.
The bill, which was circulated for comment until 5 June, proposes that the scope of producer responsibility would also cover those operators that sell products to Finland through international distance selling. This would mean that operators not located in Finland could appoint a producer organisation or some other operator to take responsibility for their obligations in Finland or join an approved producer organisation directly. This way, they would also take responsibility for the recycling of the devices they have brought into the market.
Recser Oy is in favour of the proposal
Recser Oy was asked for comment on the Waste Act reform bill. In our statement, we expressed strong support for applying producer responsibility to distance selling operators. We also expressed our concern for international online platforms being left outside the scope of regulation. According to reports, we know that Finns buy an increasing number of batteries and accumulators, or devices containing them, from distance sellers operating on international sales platforms.
The monitoring of distance selling will, no doubt, be very difficult, which is why it is important to set a secondary producer responsibility for international online platforms. The secondary responsibility we are proposing would mean that the sales platform would have to ensure that the producer responsibility of the products sold through the platform is fulfilled in Finland, if the companies operating on the platforms will not do it themselves. The regulations concerning producer responsibility in the waste act reform received a total of 127 opinions both for and against them.
Responsibility to also cover recyclability and communications
The Circular Economy Package approved by the EU in 2018 contains four waste directives that amend six waste directives: Waste Framework Directive, Landfilling Directive, Packaging Waste Directive, Directives on end-of-life vehicles, on batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators, and on waste electrical and electronic equipment. The key goal of the package is to streamline adherence to waste hierarchy and increase the resource-efficient use and recycling of materials.
In terms of general regulations concerning producer responsibility, the objective of the Circular Economy Package is to harmonise the minimum requirements concerning producer responsibility systems between member states and have distance selling be comprehensively covered by the responsibility.
The prohibitions and obligations of caution set out in section 9 of the Waste Act will be updated to correspond to the requirements of the waste directive in connection with the reform. The party releasing the product onto the market shall ensure, insofar as possible, that the product is resource-efficient, durable in terms of its life span and working life and updatable, and that any product containing critical raw materials is re-usable and recyclable as waste.
In addition to this, the producer must ensure that spare parts, user instructions, technical specifications and other equipment, devices and software that enable the quality repair and safe re-use of the product are made available. The general minimum requirements of the producer responsibility system also add new provisions to the Waste Act in terms of responsibilities such as communications towards consumers, reporting to the authorities, in-house control and recycling fees based on the environmental impact of the products.
According to the proposal, producers must also join a producer responsibility organisation going forward to fulfil their producer responsibility, i.e. the option to register directly with the authorities will only be made possible in exceptional circumstances. One of the goals of the Waste Act reform is to reduce the burden of regulation put on the producers, but, at the same time, the burden of regulation, as well as the resulting costs, will increase for producer organisations.
You can view the Waste Act proposal and comments on it at lausuntopalvelut.fi (in finnish, request for comment document number: VN/538/2019).
Waste Act reform website (in finnish): https://www.ym.fi/jatesaadospaketti.