Q&A: Can I take my packaging back to the shop?

ENP Your Question 2019 03 19 - 001

The Question: Can I take my packaging back to the shop where I bought the goods which had the packing around it? You can, but there is no legal obligation of your seller to accept it. If a retailer accepts your waste packaging it is nothing but a gesture of goodwill. There is no law which would state differently. This subject is puzzling legislators back and forth or years now. As by so many other packaging related things, there is consensus over what should be done, or how things should function.

True, there are many public initiatives that are addressing the topic. This case is a good example of how we as humans tried to solve a problem, but created many others while doing so. At the end of the day, the system(s) we have in place today is simply wrong. When we have so many parts of society unsatisfied, plus we are creating more and more environmental problems, we need to admit that we all have failed. Consumers, retailers, legislators, packaging industry and waste management industry.

Should POS be responsible for packaging?

Such a solution could be smart, but then again it would create more problems as well for the retailers. Majority of current waste packaging directives are handling the topic of waste packaging in a simple way: the manufacturer of goods is responsible for packaging. They pay taxes and for legislators, ENP Your Question 2019 03 19 - 002 this seems to be enough. The basic formula on weight (or volume) output seemed a simple and good idea at the time when it has been adopted. In the European Union, for example, the EU Packaging Directive has been adopted in 1994. True, there were some changes, but literally, none of them solved anything. If anything any change created even more problems.

Retailers are under attack in many regions by different initiatives and activists, who try to push the bourdon of waste packaging on them. I am not stepping on anyone’s side nor am I trying to discard anyone, but the problem should be solved elsewhere. The retailers should definitely have an important role in the waste packaging handling process, but the set up needs to be completely different.

How things work today

ENP Your Question 2019 03 19 - 003The legislators have a very bad overview and lack of knowledge of packaging and waste packaging management. Everything that has been pushed in the regulatory system has been done purely on public’s pressure. Activists forced the legislators to do something, and with a lack of information and knowledge, they formulated regulations that seemed to solve the problem. Years later we can see that such a system doesn’t work. An important fact is that event things are not working, something has been done, and the result is that we have lots of data on which we can do our next steps.

Today the responsibility of waste packaging lies on the outlets of packaging, the manufacturers of products. They need to report the amount of packaging they have dispatched into the supply stream. Depending on the region, state or nation, they segment down the packaging, quantify it and on the basis of that pay packaging tax. The issue here is that the basic segmentation is far too general and the taxation formula needs many modifications. Each and every single manufacturer can tell you how confusing and unrealistic this reporting is.

These reports are the basis for calculating the amount of packaging that is in the supply cycle (aside to taxation basis that is). On the other side the waste management companies that are in charge of collecting waste report the amount of packaging received into their facilities. This is a simple way of explaining what the reports on waste packaging are based upon. Anyone that knows the topic a bit deeper understands that there are many things that are far too generalized in this system we have today. But it did move us one step closer to understanding what is happening to the packaging in the supply stream.

The retailers

Getting back to the subject, the part of the supply chain that is responsible for packaging at this moment are manufacturers. The retailers are considered and treated as users of packaging. They (mostly) do not pack things, they actually need to unpack and store many waste packaging by themselves. The package that consumer received has been also packed for better handling and logistics. The retailer receives a logistic unit (not a single selling unit), and it is packed as well. Pallets, stretch films, corrugated transport boxes, all of these materials and products are the packaging waste that retailer has. This is why it is important to understand that the retailer today is treated the same way as any other business or consumer.

They sort and store packaging materials for waste management facilities to collect. And here is the most important aspect; they pay for it. The same way as we are paying for the collection at our homes. This means that each time we (as consumers) are bringing back packaging, we are increasing their costs. Directly on their waste output, as well as indirectly; someone (an employee at the shop) needs to take their time, take your packaging and sort it properly. True, it takes a minute, but consider that they have to do it a few hundreds of times per day.

This would push the retailers into new overhead demand. This would increase their costs. In order to keep their bottom line, they would need to increase their prices. Guess who would be paying at the end. Consumer. The other concern that arises is that if we would make such a system, where consumers could take back their packaging to retailers is that additional carbon emissions would be generated by doing so.

What retailers can do

Retailers (physical and online) can easily start recording the amount of packaging that they have sold with their products. ENP Your Question 2019 03 19 - 004 The monitoring of packaging movement through the supply chain should be implemented in each and every IT system that deals with products. The similar principle that addresses the monitoring of food sourcing should be implemented for packaging materials as well. This is actually what ENP is doing at this given moment. We are preparing a block-chain based system that will monitor all of the packaging (please do contact us to learn more about it).

The upside of retailers is that they need to scan each and every product is scanned at cashier point. They are practically barcode scanning each and every item when it comes into the facility (store) and when it’s being sold. They have a full overview of the product movement, and they know exactly what has been released into the supply chain into great detail. Each and every shop is monitoring the sales per location, and by doing the same for packaging materials they could report on the basis of geodata basis. All information could be actual and in real time.

Such a system could help waste management companies and local municipalities to better understand and plan their waste management operations. It would push them from reacting on old data to working with a real-time actual situation. This would trigger a chain of events that would implicate in the grand scheme of things. It would become easier to plan the resources needed for packaging materials. It would show the exact locations where waste packaging is being lost, and we could start dealing with actual problems and not work on assumptions, just to name the two of them.

The Challenge(s)

At Environment & Packaging, we have decided to contribute our vision to the problematic. Our Packaging Challenges are intended for two main things: raising awareness by the general public and assembling direct packaging data from manufacturers. This way we can help anyone to better understand the concept of packaging, plus help to see the manufacturers (brands) the value and importance of dealing with the packaging issues.

There is one thing we cannot overlook. We as mankind are doing something really wrong. The waste pollution has left a large impact on our planet and the results are clear. We are collecting only half of the packaging, recycling one-third of it and reusing one-tenth of it. There is lots of room for improvement, and we have less and less time to properly address it.