The EU is currently preparing a new Decree on Packaging and Packaging Waste that would require businesses to reuse and refill packaging, among other things. The European Parliament will vote on its amendments to the Commission’s proposal for the Decree on Packaging and Packaging Waste next week.
Reuse proposed alongside recycling
Finland has a well-functioning deposit-based return system for beverage packaging, in which the returned beverage packages are recycled and used for the manufacturing of new ones. The system is operated by Suomen Palautuspakkaus Oy (Palpa), which is owned by retail companies and the beverage industry. From the point of view of logistics and efficiency, it is essential that the packages returned by consumers can be compressed for transport and that the handling of beverage packages does not take up too much space in stores.
“The Finnish beverage packaging return system is environmentally friendly and efficient, and its functionality should not be compromised by forcing companies to switch to reusable packaging. Reuse should be an option, not a mandatory requirement. The reuse requirement outlined in the Decree on Packaging and Packaging Waste aims to force all member states into the same one-size-fits-all model, regardless of geographical distances, product ranges or their already existing and well-functioning systems,” says Pasi Nurminen, Managing Director of Suomen Palautuspakkaus Oy.
When Finland switched from reusable beverage bottles to recyclable bottles and cans between 2005 and 2008, the environmental impact of beverage packaging was reduced in many respects.*
“For example, recyclable cardboard is used in Finland as packaging material for juices, dairy products and milk-based beverages. Our system for recycling fibres works well, and we plainly exceed the targets set by the EU in that area. Therefore, no requirements should be set for the use of reusable packaging for these product categories,” says Ilkka Nieminen, Director of the Finnish Grocery Trade Association.
Reuse and refilling can be promoted through experimentation
The Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety has proposed that stores with an area of more than 400 square meters should reserve at least 10% of their area for products that would be packaged in the consumer’s own containers. There is little experience in Finland with refilling containers brought to the store by customers. Retail companies believe that refilling containers involves several issues regarding food safety and hygiene.
Handling reusable packaging returned by consumers would result in a considerable need for additional space and work in stores. For example, even a partial switch from recyclable to reusable packaging for drinks and take away meals would require major changes in the use of the store spaces. In many stores, it is not possible to expand the premises, which means that existing sales areas would have to be converted into technical facilities for reuse-related purposes.
“If stores were required to use floor space for refilling stations, bottle storage areas and logistics solutions, the investment cost for businesses would amount to hundreds of millions of euros, and they would, simultaneously, be forced to narrow down their product selections, resulting in reduced sales,” Nieminen says.
Trade organisations and Palpa point out that major changes such as reuse and refill objectives should always be based on a neutral and science-based analysis of the entire value chain, and that these analyses should demonstrate the positive environmental and climate impact of such changes.
“For example, using reusable take-away containers in stores and restaurants could potentially be genuinely environmentally sustainable, and objectives could be set for it, for example, in the context of a green deal based on voluntary development. At the same time, we can keep old solutions that have proven their worth, such as deposit-based return systems for beverage containers and material recycling,” says Marja Ola, Chief Policy Adviser at the Finnish Commerce Federation.
For further information, please contact:
Ilkka Nieminen, Director, Finnish Grocery Trade Association, email@example.com, tel. +358 50 042 2216
Pasi Nurminen, Managing Director Suomen Palautuspakkaus Oy, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +358 40 7000 443
Marja Ola, Chief Adviser, Finnish Commerce Federation, email@example.com, tel. +358 (0) 50 383 7711
* When beer bottles were refilled in Finland, the stock of brown beer bottles was about 160 million at the beginning of the 2000s. The bottle stock had to be replenished continuously due to, among other things, the wear and breakage of bottles. The (refillable) Ecobottle containers were refilled approximately four times a year. Calculated on the basis of the weight of the bottle alone (235 g), the total freight volume was 150,400 tonnes. Today, beer is sold in aluminium cans, and the corresponding figure for the total freight is 13,146 tonnes, or less than a tenth, when calculated with 0.33 l cans.
Today, all aluminium cans collected by Palpa are made into new cans. All other beverage containers collected by Palpa are also delivered for the manufacture of new beverage containers. In 2022, the recycling rate of beverage containers under the Palpa system was 99% for aluminium cans, 90% for plastic bottles and 98% for glass bottles.
The Finnish Commerce Federation, the Finnish Grocery Trade Association and Suomen Palautuspakkaus Oy, together with other European operators in the sector, have signed a petition to ensure the functioning of the internal market and the continuation of recycling-based systems as alternatives to the switch to the reuse of packaging.
Recognising the complementarity of reuse and recycling does not mean lacking ambition