CHINA – The Chinese Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) has passed the second reading of an amendment to the 2003 Cleaner Production Law to include a ban on the production and use of ‘excessive packaging’.
President Hu Jintao has already issued an order to publicize the amended law, which will take effect on July 1.
The Amendment to the Law on the Promotion of Clean Production makes companies responsible for avoiding excessive packaging and making sure that the "material, arrangement and cost" of the packaging are in line with the products.
Since 2011, China has had an Excessive Packaging Ordinance, issued by the State Council (China’s equivalent of the Cabinet Office), and intended to reduce packaging waste, regulates the volume of permitted headspace, packaging layers and price of packaging used in alcohol, cosmetics and certain types of food packaging.
According to Wang Guangtao, director of the National People's Congress' Environment and Resource Protection Committee quoted by China Daily, “Excessive packaging, which wastes resources and causes pollution, has been on the rise in China, and about 20% of trash in China is from discarded wrapping material.
"Excessive packaging has raised wide concerns as the products are usually high-priced, especially food, so the practice infringes upon consumers' rights," he said. “Excessive packaging fosters extravagance and corruption”.
In the Chinese legal process it is not uncommon for a particularly innovative or controversial regulation to be first published as a State Council Notice or Ordinance in order to test of ‘proof of concept’.
Unlike in the West, where a law hits the statute book as a fully drafted body of legislation, State Council Notices, which have the force of law, are frequently loosely drafted to allow the administration the flexibility to fine-tune implementation procedures without having to revert to the annual meeting of the full National People’s Congress for amendments.
The current NPC Excessive Packaging measures is the result of more than two years of testing fine-tuning and consultation with industry. In addition to the provisions contained in the original State Council Notice, the amendment calls for ‘local quality watchdogs’ to be responsible for checking whether companies might use excessive packaging.
However, in common with other provisions in the Cleaner Production Law the amendment does not give a clear definition of what constitutes excessive packaging, but references the original Notice, which in turn refers to a National (GB) Standard which requires that packages can be no more than three layers, and the cost of wrapping should be less than 20% of the value of the product.
The amended law stipulates that enterprises should package their products in a manner that "well fits the content's quality, size and cost and makes less packaging waste".
During the design process of products and packages, enterprises should take into account the influence they will exert upon human health and environment and give preferred consideration to plans that use packaging in a non-poisonous, harmless, degradable and recyclable way.
Since 2003, Cleaner Production Law has contained a single paragraph stating that Excessive Packaging should be banned; however, the new amendment highlights a more concise and detailed definition of the term "excessive packaging of products" and contains a list of conditions under which compulsory clean production checks should be imposed on enterprises. It is also anticipated that the amendment will widen the scope of products covered by the regulations to include more than alcohol, cosmetics and certain types of food packaging.
Emission & Pollution Controls
In addition to the Excessive Packaging provisions, the amended law tightens the system of reviewing the steps pertaining to clean production that should be taken by government agencies in an effort to make enterprises more responsible.
|China's Excessive Packaging Legislation|
|China's Packaging & Environmental Legislation|
The 2003 Cleaner Production Law did not clarify the roles and responsibilities of government agencies in conducting compulsory reviews over clean production-oriented measures implemented by enterprises, according to Wang.
The amended law now stipulates that enterprises whose pollutant emissions exceed limits set by national or local rules, whose energy consumption per unit product is too high, or whose production or emission process involves poisonous or harmful materials, will be applicable to compulsory review by authorities.
In addition to clarifying government organs' supervision responsibilities, the amended law clearly demands that concerned enterprises should report their clean production measures and results to local government and also make the measures and results public through local media.
The central government will also set up a special fund to support clean production-oriented technological improvement in key sectors and projects, according to the amended law.
Additionally, central government will set up a special fund to support clean production-oriented technological research and development in key sectors and projects, according to the amended law.
When the amendment enters the statute book, in July 2012, China will be the first country in the world to pass a law specifically banning Excessive Packaging. While other countries have consumer protection legislation that contain some elements regulating attempts to deceive consumers through larger pack sizes, China will be the first country to attempt to regulate the volume and materials used in packaging as a waste reduction measure.
China ramps up Excessive Packaging propaganda
Discussing Excessive Packaging legislation in China