Left in the gray zone: How could the Northern Ireland Protocol impact packagers?
24 Feb 2023 --- As London and Brussels intensify discussions regarding the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol, PackagingInsights looks at how cross border trade and supply between the European Union (EU) and the UK could transform for packaging producers.
While the EU moves to reform the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) into a regulation, obliging member states to implement the packaging legislation, the UK has its own set of rules and regulations to tackle packaging waste.
Northern Ireland has been a point of debate due to its land border with the Republic of Ireland. Pre-Brexit, businesses across the UK and EU only needed to follow one set of requirements in order to sell and supply their products in the region.
“While it’s hard to measure the immediate impacts of this divergent legislation at this early stage, packaging producers will undoubtedly have to think hard about how to navigate the different requirements,” Louisa Goodfellow, policy advisor at Ecosurety, tells us.
“This is particularly true given Northern Ireland will likely have to implement the regulation under the protocol. It’s probable that to ease administrative and financial burdens, businesses will simply ensure all their packaging conforms to the high EU standards, regardless of whether it is put onto the UK market.”
Recently, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission (EC) president Ursula von der Leyen held discussions and stirred speculation that a deal over the Northern Ireland Protocol is near.
“We clearly can see the finishing line. But in such a negotiation, being close doesn’t mean being done,” says Maroš Šefčovič, vice president of the EC for Interinstitutional Relations.
The Northern Ireland Protocol is a special trading arrangement that allows certain goods to be transported across the Irish land border without the need for checks – which are, as a result, conducted at the Northern Irish ports.
Under the scheme, Northern Ireland follows EU customs rules, remains part of the Single Market for goods and applies EU Value Added Tax.
“Once the PPWD in the EU moves to a regulation, it will be much more prescriptive and member states will have less flexibility in how they implement it,” Goodfellow continues.
“Coupled with its ambition – for instance, the draft currently proposes a 35% recycled content for most plastic packaging by 2030 and high reuse or refill targets – this could mean country-specific infrastructural capacity and markets are not considered closely enough in the EU and targets are unattainable.”
What can packagers do?
The PPWD was transposed into pre-Brexit UK law in the late 1990’s, Goodfellow details.
“It being a directive meant a certain amount of discretion in its implementation. For instance, the UK introduced market-based recycling evidence notes, which was at odds with most of its European counterparts.”
“Once the new and ambitious regulation is passed in Europe, however, the differences in packaging policy will become more pronounced, especially considering the UK’s current transition to a unique Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) framework,” she says.
Currently, producers are left in the gray zone as there is no clarity on when the European Parliament will pass the directive as a regulation. Also, whether the UK – excluding Northern Ireland – will follow similar requirements for packagers and packaging waste remains to be seen.
“What’s clear is that as we see the UK moving away from originally transposed EU legislation in the current packaging reforms, we likely won’t follow the EU lead as the regulation moves through the EC,” Goodfellow opines.
“We hope the targets set by the EU can be replicated in domestic legislation, with support and collaboration given to the UK packaging industry. Alignment with the EU as much as possible will continue to be important in areas such as packaging design to ensure we don’t fall behind in mitigating packaging waste’s environmental impact and producers can trade easily between borders.”
By Radhika Sikaria
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