Since 1998 firms that place packed products on the market have been responsible for the attainment of the recycling and recovery targets. The new Waste Act, which came into force on 1 May, has extended producer responsibility and in the future will impose waste management responsibility on firms for the packaging they place on the Finnish market along with their products. PYR Ltd and the producer organisations in the packaging sector are still operating as before in compliance with earlier packaging decrees. However, it is useful to examine the operations of the system impartially and openly during this phase of change to see whether these operations can be further upgraded.
A new packaging decree is being drafted and the sector will have to present its own plans shortly. The Ministry of the Environment is setting up a workshop in November for the drafting of the decree and the sector should present any possible proposals some time before it starts. The workshop will consider, among other subjects, some options prepared by the ministry concerning regulations governing the network of reception points. The situation is somewhat problematic in that plans can be made and the groundwork carried out, but actual decisions can only be taken after the decree has been approved. According to the Ministry of the Environment’s schedule, the packaging decree should be approved in autumn 2013 and would come into force in May 2014 together with other regulations concerning packaging. Fortunately, however, it will become clearer what is happening from the draft proposals in connection with the drafting process and matters can be negotiated with the authorities.
For some firms the Waste Act is just one act among others. It is nevertheless worth familiarising oneself with this act, as many of its clauses apply to all firms regardless of the sector the firm operates in.
What the act and the connected packaging decree under preparation states about producer responsibility for packaging is of particular importance to firms placing packed products on the market, in other words packers. According to this act, it is incumbent on all firms to follow a scale of priorities, according to which firms first and foremost have to reduce the quantity and harmful impact of waste arisings throughout all their activities. If waste still arises, however, the product should be manufactured to be reusable for its original purpose. If this is not possible, a new product should be made from the waste or, in other words, the material should be recycled. If recycling is not possible, energy should be recovered from the waste. The last option is to take the waste to landfill. However, after 2016 it will not be allowed to take biodegradable or organic waste to landfill.
The law obliges the manufacturer of products to use raw materials economically and to avoid materials that are hazardous to the environment and health as well as to minimise the amount of production wastage and environmental impacts. In addition, the product should be durable, repairable and reusable. The producer should also be capable of reporting on the amount of wastage generated in production and any possible impacts on the environment and health arising from production and also on how waste management functions.
In accordance with the matching principle, the initial producer of the product or the current or previous holder of the waste is responsible for costs incurred in waste management. There are separate clauses on producer responsibility concerning this matter, referring to packaging as well as to cars, tyres, electrical and electronic equipment, transformers and batteries, and paper. Each firm whose operations generate more than 100 tonnes of normal waste or any tonnage of hazardous waste is required to keep a record of the waste.
Regulations governing the duties of municipalities in handling household mixed waste form their own section. There was considerable discussion on this item in connection with the drafting of the act, as private waste management firms felt that the act impaired their possibilities to offer their services to property holders, for instance. This ignores producer responsibility for packaging in so far as that if a packer or producer organisation offers this service to property holders, the service must be free of charge to them. On the other hand, municipalities and private waste management firms are allowed to charge property holders for their service.
The monitoring authority is entitled to obtain a wide range of data from firms in order to perform its monitoring duties. This data may refer to raw materials used in the manufacture of products up to and including a record of waste. It is significant that the Waste Act will also give the monitoring authority a better opportunity to get involved with free riders. Penalty for nonfeasance can amount to a maximum of even EUR 500,000.
There are special details in the Waste Act concerning packers. Among other things, it is stipulated in relation to vehicles that a waste collector or processor can demand compensation from the vehicle owner if additional costs are incurred due to the addition to the vehicle to be scrapped of such items or materials that substantially impair reuse or waste management. The same possibility has not been granted to processors of packaging waste even though all kinds of product remains impair the recycling of packaging.