35% of packaging in Latvia's shops unrecyclable

A third of goods available in Latvian shops are difficult or impossible to recycle, a study has found. On July 1, changes to the Natural Resources Tax Law will come into force, imposing an additional levy on producers and traders for such plastic packaging, Latvian Radio reported May 23.

A study by the Latvian University of Life Sciences and Technology and the environment organization Latvian Green Point/Latvijas Zaļais punkts has analyzed more than 3,000 different plastic packages on the shelves of shops over a period of one and a half years. The findings show that 35% of packaging is difficult or impossible to recycle.

The authors of the study highlight the variety of packaging materials used, such as a plastic container with a label or a cardboard frame and a fusible aluminum foil lid, as a major problem. As each of these materials has its own recycling method, such combined packaging is difficult to recycle.

"Another important thing we looked at in the study is the shape of the packaging. And here again, in many cases, the question of how well we can empty the packaging at home is important, because in order to be recyclable, the packaging has to be cleaned well enough. And depending on the shape of the packaging, it also makes a big difference whether the material is recyclable or not. The next question is how much the packaging is printed, because if a lot of dyes and varnishes are used, it also makes the recycling process more difficult," explained Sandra Brasava-Muižniece, Head of the Technology and Knowledge Transfer Department at the University and a representative of the Latvian Packaging Association.

Similarly, around 11% of goods and products are double-packed. The same amount of packaging in shops is underfilled, which also leads to unnecessary resource consumption and waste.

Another finding is that 22% of packaging does not indicate what material it is made of, making it harder to identify for recycling.

Ināra Šure, Head of the Latvian Federation of Food Companies, acknowledged that changing packaging is an expensive process. But given that as of July manufacturers have to pay extra for non-recycled packaging, most companies are switching to recyclable packaging where possible.

"The operators have now raised [prices] for producers three to four times compared to last year. And it's a serious situation, so companies are thinking how to collect more of this packaging and make it recyclable. For recyclable and uncollected packaging, a company has to pay €0.8 per kilo, but for non-recyclable packaging it is much more. These problems have been solved in the beverage sector, but the rest of the food industry is in the process phase," said Šure.

According to the State Environmental Service, in 2022, more than 47,000 tonnes of plastic packaging were placed on the Latvian market, half of which will have been collected and diverted for recycling or thermal energy recovery.

However, from 2021, Member States have to pay for unrecycled plastics into the common EU budget. Latvia has so far paid around 14 million a year, said Kaspars Zakulis, Director of Latvian Green Point.

"The volume is still high. It's not that July 1 came out of the blue, because this has been discussed since 2021, when the Latvian state started paying for this packaging. And producers and traders knew that this moment would come at some point. But in any case, the 14 million taken from the general state budget will now have to be paid by all Latvian producers and traders who use plastic packaging for their goods," said Zakulis.

Jānis Brizga, head of the environmental group Green Freedom, also said that Latvia needs to significantly reduce the amount of landfilled waste in the coming years. So the amount of these hard-to-recycle materials on the shelves should already be lower.

"It is also a concern of environmental organizations that there is a lot of pressure on Latvia at the moment to set up incinerators here, which we think is the wrong direction. We should be moving in the direction of reducing waste and promoting recycling, not burning waste, because there are environmental health risks there too. And even in countries where there is relatively high incineration and there is a lot of competition with recycling, the state is not able to increase these recycling rates. It is not that companies do not have a choice about what material they use, it is more a question of business as usual. And maybe there is not enough pressure from the state and from consumers to change things," Brizga said.

A directive of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union requires the share of municipal waste landfilled to be reduced to 10% of total municipal waste by 2035.

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