Emergency Ordinance no. 125/2022, now famous for the way it was adopted by the Government and then debated more in form for months in parliamentary committees, has become law. A law that does not clarify some essential details that have led to a major bottleneck in the packaging waste market. About the way it was adopted, but also about the effects of this law, I spoke with Geanin Şerban, the president of the OIREP Packaging Association.● ecologic
ecologic: Emergency Ordinance 125/2022 had a strange history. I do not want to insist on how it was adopted or on the consultations, which were more formal. What I would like to know is whether during the many debates in Parliament you noticed any real interest on the part of the members of the Parliament (MPs) in the amendments proposed by you.
Geanin Şerban, president of OIREP Packaging Association: After participating in the entire journey of GEO no. 125 through Parliament, I came to the conclusion that we live in parallel worlds. The priorities of MPs have nothing to do with our expectations and especially with the needs of those who are affected by the decisions of the authorities. We have submitted reasoned proposals to all committees involved in the legislative process, both to the Senate and to the Chamber of Deputies. There were some interested MPs who understood that our proposals to amend the ordinance would be the right ones and not those of the ministry. Unfortunately, it turned out again that “ the separation of powers into the state” is a story, because in the end “the party discipline” decided. They said “Yes, Sir!” And that’s what the Ministry of Environment wanted. And this situation was seen in the speed with which this Emergency Ordinance was debated.
ecologic: Specifically, what are you referring to?
Geanin Şerban: GEO no. 125 which was approved by the Government in September 2022 had two stipulations with a major impact on the operational area of the packaging waste management area, which entered into force on January 1 st 2023. I am referring to the modification of the term “concerned with recycling” with “effectively recycled” and the imposition of a guarantee on collectors and sanitation workers. We considered back then that there was enough time for the ordinance to be debated by the beginning of this year, so that on January 1 st 2023 we all know how we will work in 2023 and we need to be ready. However, the Environment Committee of the Chamber of Deputies did not understand this pressure that we were subjected to and it followed the approval of GEO No 125/2022 through only in May 2023.
ecologic: What are the effects of this delay?
Geanin Şerban: The immediate effect is that the entire packaging waste management system was slow in a year when recycling targets increased, and not by little. For plastic, for example, the recycling target increased by more than 60 % from 22.5 to 35 %. In these circumstances, everyone working in the field looked forward to the final form approved by Parliament.
A big problem was caused by the fact that the Environmental Fund Administration did not make public the rules for costing the guarantee, so that in the five months since the beginning of the year everyone had provided this guarantee as he considered it being correct and how it advantaged him. Now all letters of guarantee at this stage will expire in one calendar year, well before all Environmental Fund Administration controls to be completed, making the letters of guarantee issued in these months to be practically unnecessary. Moreover, in order not to block the system, the Environmental Fund Administration accepted the carrying out of transactions in Information System for Ensuring Waste Traceability by the collectors who did not provide guarantees or letters of guarantee issued by Non-Banking Financial Institution (NBFI) not provided for in the ordinance.
ecologic: Does the currently version approved by the Parliament solve these issues?
Geanin Şerban: We don’t know. We have met several times with the Ministry of Environment. We have met, but that doesn’t mean we had a dialogue. They called us the day before the debates in the Environment Commission to present us a possibility of lodging the guarantee. From the start it was clear that they were not really interested in our opinion, because we could not express an official position only at a first reading, without a clear analysis and especially without the approval of the members of the OIREP Packaging Association. But they considered that they consulted us and in the Commission they could say they had had a dialogue with the industry. But it is totally false!
The fact that they did not want to know also the opinion of those who are going to implement their decisions is demonstrated by the fact that I did not know the latter until it appeared in the Official Journal. This option was not explained to us even at the meeting of the Environment Commission, and the articles on the guarantee were approved as a package without the associations being present at the meeting knowing what to vote.
ecologic: And what will you do next?
Geanin Şerban: We have the promise that we will have a meeting on June 7th 2023 with Aurelian Dobre in order to understand this last option. Until then, however, we lost a valuable time in which we could understand and explain to our partners the provisions of this law. More weeks are likely to come to an end when the financing of the collection will be stopped until the guarantees are put in place in the new formula. What I find extremely disturbing is that no one even mentions the amounts spent on the provision of initial guarantees. Guarantees that will be cancelled and the money will be lost.
ecologic: I have seen you throughout this period saying that the change in the phrase “consigned for recycling” affects you even more than the lodging of the guarantee by collectors.
Geanin Şerban: That’s right. As far as the guarantee is concerned, we have not insisted too much, because from our point of view the provision of this guarantee does not solve anything. Through its establishment, the ordinance encourages collectors willing to break the law to steal as much as possible, because they only answer for 50 lei per tonne, and the penalty difference of 1,950 lei per tonne will be paid by those who have no fault – OIREPs or producers. It’s so absurd and in the same time it’s hard to comment on… And yes, changing the phrase really creates problems.
Geanin Şerban: Because this year this puts in place an additional condition namely the reporting of the quantities, to be taken into account in achieving the targets, should be made only after the recyclers confirm that the packaging waste has been introduced into the recycling facility.
This means that we will only be able to pay collectors for the service provided after the recycler who received the waste, confirms that he has placed it in the waste plant. So the collectors and the town halls will receive the money with a delay that in some cases it can be extremely high. But unfortunately no one was interested in this issue.
Moreover, neither the Ministry nor the Environmental Fund Administration have responded to the official addresses by which we asked to be told which documents are necessary and sufficient to know that these quantities have been introduced into the facility and because without these clarifications, we cannot pay our partners. And this, given that for the same recycling obligation, municipalities, external recyclers and as of December 1st 2023 regarding the waste collected through the Guarantee-Return System, it is applied to another unit of measurement. They shall be accepted as the time of reporting at which the recycler confirms that he has received the quantities for recycling.
This different approach for the participants in the system, is the evidence that even the authorities do not believe that the pace of reporting would reduce possible fraud. It is basically a return in time to the amended legislation five years ago. Why did they do it? No one understood.
ecologic: Has it ever been discussed in committees about how the law can increase the amount of recyclable waste collected? Shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal of this law?
Geanin Şerban: Yes, that should have been the primary purpose of the law. Or now we all see in the last five months not the increase, but the decrease in the quantities reported as recycled. In addition, we see that there has been an increase in the quantities of waste exported to the detriment of Romanian recycling companies that thus run out of raw materials. But as I said, we live in parallel worlds, the political area is not interested in the fact that Romanian companies close their activity.
ecologic: There are a few months left and you need to meet your recycling targets. Can you still do it?
Geanin Şerban: Of course, provided the authorities realise that we have to work together. It is crucial that some clarifications should be made to the amendments to Ministerial Order No 578/2006. Let us define what is meant by “quantities entering the installation”, clearly establish how to prove them and what documents are for ensuring traceability, so that everyone knows exactly what obligation each has, how and when this obligation ends. We hope that the Environmental Fund Administration will deliver on its promise to talk to us next week to clarify all these issues so that the system can work smoothly.
We consider it equally important that representatives of the Environment Ministry take time to continue discussions with us on the Clearing House System as a solution to increase the collected and recycled quantities. Clearing House System is a recognized as an European system that can lead to an increase in the amounts of waste collected by ensuring that city halls are financed nationwide throughout the year at a fair cost. This system will also be supported by information campaigns and pilot projects adapted to the local specifics. We are quite ready. And the Ministry of the Environment must want to.
ecologic: And do you think the ministry wants to implement the Clearing House system?
Geanin Şerban: I still hope we are not talking about the ministry, but about Romania. We should all want to implement this system.•