Unfair situation for Finnish companies to change – more overseas online shops to be covered by producer responsibility

By law, producer responsibility now also applies to distance selling to Finland. Rinki carried out a year-long project to bring overseas online shops under the Finnish producer responsibility scheme. We asked expert Suvi Rapola to explain the results.

By Jouko Vuorela

Illustration Mikko Hirvonen

1. Why did Rinki launch a project to bring foreign online shops into the scope of producer responsibility?

According to the EU Waste Directive, EU Member States must ensure that companies with producer responsibility fulfil their obligations when involved in distance selling. Producer responsibility also applies to overseas online shops. The Directive entered into force in Finland as the revised Waste Act in July 2021.

Packaging volumes in e-commerce operations have been growing for a long time, but have been completely excluded from the packaging statistics. Packaging waste from online shops has been taken to the collection systems run by Rinki and the producer organisations, but no recycling fees have been collected from overseas companies. The situation has been unfair to Finnish companies that have taken care of their obligations related to producer responsibility for packaging.

2. How did the project progress?

I carried out a background survey at the beginning of the project and prepared a customer acquisition plan. I presented the project to the authorities and stakeholders. I set up the collaborative framework with a new person in charge at the Pirkanmaa Ely Centre.

Rinki drew up a separate contract form for overseas companies wishing to join the producer responsibility scheme. I sent a newsletter to identified online shops and producer responsibility consultants, in which we explained the extension of producer responsibility to distance selling. We focused on the big players and sent more than 100 letters in total.

I had to be alert the whole time. I followed newsletters, studies and listings related to e-commerce in the media and on social media. The project ran until the end of May 2022.

3. What results did the project achieve?

More than sixty foreign online shops have signed the contract and joined Rinki so far (as at the end of August). Their areas of business include consumer products, clothes, sports, pet supplies and technology.

Around half of the contracts were made through producer responsibility consultants. Many large companies entrust producer responsibility reports to consultants in the various countries in which they operate. I’ve been in close contact with them, and I receive emails from abroad almost every day.

The majority of the producer responsibility agreements for distance sellers have come from Germany and the Netherlands this year.

This spring, I’ve received the most messages from Germany and the Netherlands. It seems that the public authorities have managed to inform the operators in these countries better than elsewhere. The majority of the producer responsibility agreements for distance sellers have come from Germany and the Netherlands this year.

The producer responsibility system for online shops is based on EU legislation, which is communicated and applied in each Member State. The extension of the producer responsibility scheme to international distance selling will take effect at different times in different countries, and in some Member States this will not be until the beginning of 2023.

4. How can consumers know whether the online shops they use have fulfilled their producer responsibility obligations?

A list of companies that have fulfilled their producer responsibility can be found on the Rinki website. Some companies also display the Rinki logo on their websites, which communicates their responsibility.

5. How will you encourage overseas online shops to join the producer responsibility system?

The project has been good preparation for raising awareness and making e-commerce packaging subject to producer responsibility in other EU countries. We will focus our communications on large operators with large packaging volumes.

Unfortunately, some online shops are opaque: their contact details are not available. They focus on offering great purchasing experiences and are not available for other kinds of contact. Getting in touch with them requires patient detective work.

The Extended Producer Responsibility Alliance (EXPRA) is a forum for cooperation between national producer responsibility organisations in 24 countries. It raises awareness of producer responsibility issues in Europe and beyond.

In order for producer responsibility to become a reality in the context of online shopping, cooperation between the authorities and international producer responsibility organisations is required. To achieve this, the authorities are launching operations to monitor free riders among online shops.