An old television set carelessly tossed out in the street. Full blue garbage bags are lost in the forest. Cans, plastic bags and other packaging in the middle of a field. People are inspired with limitless ways to dispose of their trash – and it doesn’t seem to matter to them that they are not only destroying the environment, but also risking hefty fines. Proper waste disposal is not only a problem for households, but also for businesses in the food and beverage industry, especially, when they export their products to countries like Belgium.
The legal framework
Already in 1994, the European Union introduced guidelines to align packaging management and packaging waste control policies with recycling and disposal standards. The objective of the 94/62/EG guideline is to reduce the negative impact such waste has on the environment and whenever possible to eliminate such waste altogether to guarantee a high level of environmental protection standards. Moreover, this guideline marks an effort to ensure the vitality of the domestic market and to prevent unfair and limited competition, as well as to lift trade barriers. This is an especially important guideline for the food and beverage industry, which produces products for the Belgian market, and also for manufacturers who produce goods abroad to be imported to Belgium.
Here, various levels of government, which are inextricably tied to one another, oversee environmental affairs, closely linking many larger societal factors to environmental issues. On the one hand, the Public Federal Service (which is comparable to a federal ministry or the State Department), is concerned with public health, supply chain safety and the environment. On the other hand, however, individual regions of the country: Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia regulate all environmental affairs, including natural habitat, conservation, waste disposal and recycling. Food and beverage producers in the Belgian market must therefore meet requirements both on the regional and the federal levels.
Different types of packaging
If a food and beverage business markets its products in Belgium, a distinction must be made between the following types of packages:
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- Primary packaging (Retail or initial packaging): These include all packaging the end user or consumer receives in one unit at the point of sale.
- Secondary packaging (Overpackaging, secondary packaging): This includes any packaging that has a certain number of merchandising units sold as such or by piece on the shelves. This type of packaging can be removed without changing the product’s properties.
- Tertiary packaging (Transport or third-layer packaging): This includes all packaging that facilitates loading and transport, as well as prevents the goods from being damaged. This category, however, does not include containers.
- Service packaging: This includes any type of primary, secondary or tertiary packaging used to prepare the product or service for the consumer at the point of sale.
The way a product is classified determines how a product’s packaging is defined under the above categories. That is, manufacturers must determine whether their products or packages are intended for industrial or household use. This is key for reporting the disposal or recycling of such packaging to the corresponding authorities.
Fost Plus and VAL-I-PAC
Simply fulfilling regional and federal public service guidelines is not enough. Businesses must also adhere to International Packaging Commission rules. For instance, this Commission only permits entities charged by companies to recycle and dispose of their packaging waste. In Belgium, the authorities that oversee packaging are Fost Plus and VAL-I-PAC, the latter responsible for regulating the disposal and recycling of secondary and tertiary packaging, and the former responsible for regulating primary packaging for household products. Both authorities have entered into agreements with local garbage disposal agencies charged with trash collection, forwarding and sorting.
Fost Plus and VAL-I-PAC provide food and beverage manufacturers with reference lists for determining whether their products qualify in Belgium as industrial or household goods in addition to overseeing packaging classifications. While producers and importers are primarily the ones responsible for declaring packaging classifications, these rules also apply to businesses who package their products in Belgium, those who import products not packaged in Belgium to Belgium, as well as companies who unpack products in Belgium, bringing service packaging to the market. All such companies are required to register with VAL-I-PAC or Fost Plus. Companies not liable for packaging may also voluntarily report to Fost Plus.
Package disposal and recycling requirements
If a company meets one or more of the aforementioned criteria, it must also comply with the following requirements:
- Set a prevention plan
- Obligation to receive return packaging
- Disclosure requirement
The requirement to establish a prevention plan applies to companies that are introducing at least 300 tons total of primary, secondary and tertiary one-way packaging to the Belgian market. In addition, the requirement applies to companies that use at least 100 tons of one-way packaging to package products for the Belgian market. In both cases, these companies must submit a general prevention plan, which describes their goals and measures for reducing their output of packaging waste, to the Commission every three years. Companies introducing at least 300 kg of packaging to the Belgian market are likewise responsible for disposal and recycling, as well as taking back returns of their glass, paper, metal, wood and cardboard products. To this effect, the Commission must publish a report every year about the total amount of all packages.
Avoid penalties with comprehensive organization
Complying with all these guidelines and requirements can become a real challenge for many companies in the food and beverage industry. Those who do not comply will face hefty fines of up to 25,000 euro, or imprisonment of up to a year. Non-compliance with the prevention plan and untimely or delayed recycling or disposal of packaging waste are all subject to these penalties.
Companies who affiliate with Fost Plus and/or VAL-I-PAC are therefore on the safe side. These agencies manage return obligations and disclosure requirements for manufacturers. However – guidelines and rules are subject to constant adjustments. Therefore, food and beverage enterprises are strongly encouraged to obtain the support of product lifecycle management software (PLM). Digitally capturing and automatizing all product processes and packaging specifications allows companies to more easily manage these processes, as well as align themselves with the respective requirements of each country where they are doing business. The PLM system will be immediately informed of any changes to laws, keeping manufactures in regular compliance with regulatory requirements of any country.
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