By way of introduction, we would like to provide some background on the guarantee-return system. So, the return-guarantee system is regulated by Government Decision no. 1074/2021 and aims to implement an entire system in Romania which essentially involves the payment of a guarantee by the consumer when purchasing products with non-reusable primary packaging from traders, with the guarantee to be subsequently redeemed.
The return guarantee scheme aims to encourage the return of single-use beverage packaging for recycling, thereby contributing to increasing the quantity and quality of materials collected for recycling. Beverage producers, through the SGR administrator, are obliged to achieve minimum annual SGR packaging return targets, the first step in achieving this target being to register in the system and enter into a contract with ReturRO Sistem Garanție-Returnare S.A.
The implementation of the guarantee-return system in Romania aims at integrating the latter into European trends, given that most EU countries have already implemented this system.
The aim of this system is to collect from the market and introduce packaging into a circular economy, helping Romania to reach the national collection and recycling targets set at European level. These require 77% of PET placed on the market to be collected by 2025 and 90% by 2029.
A final point to note here is that once implemented, this money-back guarantee scheme will be mandatory for producers and traders, and treating it as optional will attract considerable fines.
What this system actually means for traders and producers as well as for consumers is described below.
The guarantee-return system, is in fact a circuit that glass, plastic or metal packaging with volumes between 0.1 litres and 3 litres inclusive must follow. So, when consumers buy products with packaging made from these materials, they will pay a guarantee of RON 0.50. Afterwards, they will return the packaging to the collection point provided by the retailers, where they will receive the guarantee back.
Producers, in turn, will have to pay an SGR administration fee, which will be calculated according to material, weight, volume and quantity.
According to the regulation, there will be obligations on producers and traders in particular to implement RMS, but consumers will not be exempt either.
Producers and traders are obliged to register in the SGR by means of a special notification, to register in a database and, last but not least, to conclude service contracts with the SGR administrator. Otherwise, traders will no longer be able to market products of the materials concerned from producers not registered in the SGR or from their distributors. Producers placing on the national market products in the packaging in question were required to register in the database managed by the SGR administrator by 28 February 2023.
Therefore, the non-implementation of SGR by producers will entail, in addition to the penalty aspects, a so-called trade isolation, since they will no longer be able to sell such products to traders.
Producers and traders are responsible for providing consumers with a collection point for such packaging. They will also be responsible for paying the guarantee to the latter. The guarantee is to be returned to the consumer in cash, by voucher or by bank transfer.
As far as consumers are concerned, they are obliged to pay particular attention to the return conditions, as failure to comply with them entitles manufacturers/dealers not to return the guarantee.
Essential in this context is the fact that the packaging to be part of the SGR must bear a representative symbol and a barcode on the product label, which is mandatory for the return of the guarantee to consumers.
Also, the label must be intact, the packaging clean and the cap on. The guarantee will not be refunded if the packaging is damaged in such a way that it is not possible to determine whether it belongs to the SGR or if it is not completely emptied. The time limit for the return is 24 months after the placing on the market of the products concerned by the traders.
One aspect that we consider important and also favourable is that retailers are obliged to accept SGR packaging to be returned by consumers regardless of where it was purchased and without presentation of the receipt. This is beneficial as it facilitates the return of packaging, saving consumers from having to keep receipts for each individual product.
From 30 November 2023, the SGR will be compulsory for all producers and traders, applying to products manufactured in Romania as well as to products imported or purchased within the EU, on a non-discriminatory basis. The placing on the market of products packaged in glass, metal or plastic packaging will be prohibited if their producers are not registered in the SGR.
The legal texts also provide for exceptions to the application of the SGR. Thus, the return-guarantee scheme does not apply to exported products traded in duty-free shops and those traded on international means of transport. Also, traders who make products in SGR packaging available on the national market exclusively via an online platform are not obliged to organise return points. Furthermore, traders in the HoReCa sector are not obliged to organise return points and will not be paid the handling fee by the SGR manager.
If producers and consumers do not comply and do not implement the SGR, this constitutes a contravention and is punishable by a fine. In addition to the fine, the complementary sanction of temporary suspension of the economic operator’s activity until the implementation of the return-guarantee system may also be applied. Very importantly, if an economic operator is both a producer and a trader, he will be bound by the obligations imposed by the legal provisions on both categories of economic operators.
Viewed in terms of advantages and disadvantages, the return-guarantee system seems, at least in theory, to be predominantly advantageous. Thus, it will contribute to protecting the environment by being a tool that can increase collection targets for packaging and beverage waste and help Romania to reach the targets of the new European regulations. Guarantee-return schemes also play a vital role in combating pollution by providing a financial incentive for consumers to return post-consumer packaging for recycling.
The disadvantage is not necessarily the cost, as we might be tempted to think, but the bureaucracy and administrative effort involved in implementing the return-guarantee system. This is probably also the reason why the implementation of the SGR has already been tried for several years but without success.
In conclusion, the approach to the refund-guarantee system is a commendable one, but it involves a significant administrative effort for the companies affected, so they must carefully prepare the necessary documentation and carefully analyse the financial and fiscal impact of the whole procedure.
This article was drafted, for the Costaș, Negru & Asociații – Lawyers’ Civil Partnership blog, by Atty. Loredana Maria Feier, affiliated to the Cluj Bar Association.
Costaș, Negru & Asociații is a lawyers’ civil partnership with offices in Cluj-Napoca, Bucharest and Arad, providing legal assistance, representation and consultancy in a number of practice areas with a team composed of 16 lawyers and consultants. Details regarding legal services and the members of the team can be found on the website https://www.costas-negru.ro. All rights for the materials published on the company’s website and on social media belong to Costaș, Negru & Asociații, their reproduction being allowed only for information purposes and with the correct and complete disclosure of the source.