EPR scheme and its role in the implementation of the green and circular economy in Romania

EPR scheme and its role in the implementation of the green and circular economy in Romania

By 2030, the EU wants to achieve far more CO₂ savings than the previously targeted 40 percent CO₂ savings compared to 1990 – the member states and the European Parliament agreed on this at the end of 2020. The “Green Deal” envisages that in 2050 the EU should be the first climate-neutral association of states in the world.

The EU Green Deal provides strategies, goals, and measures in the areas of climate, environment, energy and transport. As a result, legislative changes and adjustments are to be expected in all these areas. At the same time, the EU should develop a “diplomacy of the green deal”.

Still, many companies have not yet developed a Green Deal strategy at all, while others are just beginning to do so. It was clear that many of them still needed support to become familiar with the Green Deal, especially those whose activity is the production of packaging, particularly plastic.

The material that leaves the most amount of footprint is plastic. It is estimated to release 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2 every year. This quantity is discharged both from plastic production and from storing, incinerating, and composting the material. The demand for plastic is projected to increase by 22% over the next five years, as it has become the preferred material in the packaging, construction, and automotive industries. If this situation continues, the quantity of plastic that is put out on the market will double. We have to manage this in order to change paradigm.

By June 2021, the EU Commission will also review all relevant policy instruments. Many of these changes affect companies directly, while others have a decisive impact on the economic environment.

In the centre of the environmental policy projects, however, is the promotion of the circular economy. The EU Commission announced that it will present a new legal framework for sustainable products and a proposal to revise the Ecodesign Directive in the fourth quarter of 2021. This means that companies must make considerable adjustments to the design and manufacture of their products and assume the financial and / or operational responsibility of the resulting waste management after the end of the product’s life cycle. This responsibility has been established in European legislation through the extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes.

In Romania, professionals in this field are the organizations that implement the extended responsibility of producers (OIREP / PRO), those responsible for identifying and financing, in terms of efficiency and economic and environmental performance, the best ways of collection, transport, sorting and recycling of waste.

In Romania, the EPR scheme in the field of packaging waste management began to be implemented starting with 2007, and thus the producers became responsible, based on the “polluter pays” principle, for financing the collection and recovery, respectively recycling of waste from the products put on the market, all these being realized through the 13 OIREP entities acting for the fulfilment of the obligations of the approx. 30,000 manufacturers.

In the last three years, the amount of packaging introduced on the Romanian market by the industry has increased from 1.9 million tons in 2018 to 2.15 million tons in 2020, which translates into a quantity of packaging waste generated annually of approx. 110 kg / citizen. This amount in the proportion of approx. 60% is generated by citizens in municipal waste, and municipal waste management in Romania is based on the implementation of 34 integrated waste management systems (SMID) through inter-community development associations (ADI). For the development of these systems, 1 billion Euros from European funds were made available before and after EU accession and, however, currently only 21 of the IDAs manage functional systems that generate annually only approx. 10% of the quantities of recycled packaging waste (maximum 100,000 tons).

In order for the EPR scheme through OIREP to meet its recycling objectives, continuous efforts were needed on their part and by the economic operators collecting and recycling, so that, in the last 3 years, the quantities of recycled packaging waste have increased from 1,2 to 1.3 million tons. Thus, the scheme established by European environmental legislation for packaging waste management is the most viable from an economic, social and environmental point of view, contributing decisively not only to fulfilling the obligations of the producers in whose name it operates but also to fulfilling the recycling objectives of Romania.

Manufacturers and OIREP entities have understood that packaging is a very important issue and waste management is a continuing challenge, especially in the context of the need to implement principles to prevent waste generation, increase recycling and move from traditional/ linear to circular economy, in which the use of secondary materials resulting from waste will become more and more necessary.

Plastic is the predominant raw material of packaging, and the challenges related to its collection and recycling are still great as long as separate collection is not widespread and new capacities and technologies for sorting and recycling are still insufficient. In Romania, out of the total quantity of packaging put on the market between 2018-2020, the share of plastic started to decrease, from 23.3% in 2018 to 21.3% in 2020, and from 32.6 % in 2018 to 31.5% in 2020 for PET, while the share of recycled quantities increased from 55% in 2018 to 60% in 2020. However, it is still insufficient to move to a truly circular economy.

That is why OIREP entities, which act as the interface between production-consumption and collection-sorting-recycling, are in fact the entities that offer know-how and support for companies that need to rethink their business model to implement solutions for circular packaging. They must be thought of from the design phase in order to ensure a long a lifespan, to include as much secondary material from recycling as possible and a design that ensures materials with a high degree of recycling. Access to the latest sorting and recycling technologies, with increased energy efficiency, low carbon footprint, along with education and awareness campaigns are key elements to which OIREP entities can contribute greatly, based on the experience gained in over 17 years of implementing the responsibilities of producers.

Furthermore, OIREPs must increasingly represent a support for the environmental authorities responsible for planning the actions necessary for the transition to the circular economy and the transposition of legislation and obligations from the EU to Romania.

Over the next two years, a new framework for EPR and EPR systems will have to be implemented across all Member States and this can be done only by helping each other for doing it in the best way possible. At the same time, EPR systems must be strengthened, and it must make them future proof by ensuring that all packaging put on the market is circular. Local public authorities, in partnership with the OIREPs, must also ensure appropriate infrastructure for Romanian citizens so that they are able to sort their packaging easily.

The coming period will bring about numerous challenges but will also present great new opportunities for Producer Responsibility Organisations. New targets and responsibilities, but also disruptive technologies and social innovation, coupled with stronger collaboration among stakeholders, will make packaging EPR a cornerstone of the circular economy.