On-pack sorting instructions: an overview of the current situation
What is the impact of the French obligation to include sorting instructions on packaging for the Belgian market?
Since the start of this year, it has been mandatory to put uniform sorting instructions on packaging in France. This is how the country aims to increase the collection level. However, many producers put their packaging on both the French and the Belgian markets. As the sorting rules between the countries differ, this can cause confusion for consumers.
In order to stimulate a circular economy and achieve the European goals for (packaging) recycling by 2025, the collection percentages in all European countries need to improve. Belgium is on track to achieve and even surpass these goals, both per type of material and in general. In 2021 we already attained a general recycling percentage of 89.8%, with the new European calculation method. For plastic, for example, we were already at 52% last year, whereas Europe is only calling for 50% in 2025. This puts Belgium among the leaders in Europe when it comes to recycling household packaging.
But this is not the case in all countries. To achieve these collection and recycling goals, some countries see putting sorting instructions on packaging as part of the solution. These instructions are intended to make it easier for consumers to sort packaging correctly, prevent sorting mistakes and avoid sorting fatigue. So since 1 January 2022 it has been mandatory in France to put a harmonised label with sorting instructions on all household packaging. This is in addition to the famous Triman logo that was already mandatory in France. Companies have until 9 March 2023 to dispose of all packaging already produced or imported which does not meet these new requirements.
The fact that Belgium has already attained the European goals is thanks to the uniform sorting message for household packaging across the country and the convenient door-to-door collection that makes it easy for everyone to take part. This is why putting sorting instructions on packaging is not mandatory here. At the request of our members, we designed a style guide with compliant logos which can be used on a voluntary basis. But aside from that, many Belgian companies will have to adapt their packaging design because they also operate on the French market.
The biggest challenge is the difference in the waste management systems. In France, consumers are usually supposed to put both their cardboard packaging and their PMD packaging together in a common yellow bin. In Belgium, paper-cardboard and PMD are collected separately from door to door. We use a blue bag for PMD. Some intermunicipal organisations also use a yellow bin for paper-cardboard. So without extra explanation, putting the French sorting instructions on packaging that is also intended for the Belgian market could lead people here to adopt the wrong sorting behaviour.
Towards European harmonisation?
A potential proliferation of logos is obviously undesirable. So work is underway on harmonised labels for sorting instructions at European level. To provide some clarity in the meantime, the Dutch KIDV (sustainable packaging knowledge centre) provides a handy overview of the on-pack sorting logos for eight different European countries. This tells you whether or not sorting instructions are mandatory in these countries and provides more information about the provisions in force.
Fost Plus is, of course, monitoring the situation for its members. If you have any questions, please contact email@example.com.