All the trouble with packaging – the Polish deposit refund scheme

Published on 1st Mar 2022

Polish government launches new consultation on draft law as part of systemic reform and drive to circular economy


Poland has now seen the publication of three draft laws designed to bring its packaging policy in line with the philosophy and aims of the circular economy. In late January this year, the government launched a consultation process on the third and long-awaited draft law laying the framework for Poland’s deposit refund scheme. The draft law is part of a larger systemic reform currently under way which Poland is obliged to implement in line with EU regulations, in particular the single-use plastics directive and the waste framework directive amended in 2018. It is aimed at ensuring performance results (a high rate of participation in the scheme).

The regulations, which are couched in terms of the "polluter pays" principle, are intended to put Poland on a path towards adopting the minimal legal requirements that shift the responsibility for packaging waste to the producer and limit the impact of plastics on the environment. Under the directives, EU Member States are not legally required to implement deposit return schemes, but their adoption is regarded as an effective tool in aiding selective waste collection for recycling purposes and selective collection of recyclable packaging waste.

Poland has seen some success in the running of deposit return schemes by individual producers. The best example of this kind is collection of empty beer bottles by breweries. Each brewery, though, collects only its own beer bottles.

Scope of proposed scheme

Under the proposed legislation, the deposit return scheme will extend to all producers who sell beverages in two types of bottle: plastic single-use drinks bottles of up to 3 litres capacity, including bottle caps, and recyclable glass drinks bottles of up to 1.5 litres capacity. The scheme covers both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks bottles.

The proposed scheme is optional, but failure to join will carry a steep penalty for glass packaging users. It is planned that bottling companies that use these two types of bottle will enter into deposit group arrangements run by (limited liability) company representatives based on a licence system. The representatives’ job will also be to set the framework for each such deposit group arrangement and agree on the financing mechanism.

The idea is to make it easier for customers to return empty drinks bottles covered by the scheme to any shop with a floor area of 100 m² anywhere in Poland without having to produce a receipt.

The proposed legislation is somewhat at odds with the existing regulations both in Poland and those adopted by the EU Parliament.

Approach in France

Around the same time, France passed a packaging waste law with over a hundred requirements for producers and retailers, including robust prohibitions and swingeing legal measures designed to enforce compliance and punish environmental violations. 

Interestingly, the law sets the date of 2040 by which all plastic packaging must be withdrawn. The entire process has been divided into four five-year periods with objectives for each to be set by non-governmental organisations, local authorities and trade organisations. The plan for 2021-2025 provides for a cut of 20% in the production of single-use packaging by 2025, complete withdrawal of single-use packaging deemed redundant such as plastic battery and light bulb packs, and 100% recycling for the remaining single-use plastic packaging (so-called 3R).

The differences in the way the two countries are planning to implement the same EU regulations are significant, which further widens the gap in approaches between Member States. 

Osborne Clarke comment

What is most important is that the planned systemic changes to Poland’s waste management policy, including the introduction of the deposit return scheme, be consistent and set clear financial, compliance and tax reporting requirements for producers. This is all the more true given that, under the existing proposals, the penalties can be as high as PLN1m.

If you would like to discuss any of these issues further, please do not hesitate to contact the authors or your usual Osborne Clarke contact.

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* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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