The current legal framework for managing packaging and other household waste in Thailand has long been governed by various pieces of legislation, such as the Public Health Act, B.E. 2535 (1992) and the Act on the Maintenance of Cleanliness and Orderliness of the Country, B.E. 2535 (1992). However, these laws only cover broad and general practices of waste management without particular focus on recyclable waste, and do not address the waste issue at the root cause nor encompass all stakeholders with relevant roles in packaging waste management. In this regard, to provide equality and equity for all stakeholders with the ultimate goal of mitigating the environmental impact caused by packaging waste, and at the same time promoting a strong circular economy, the Draft Sustainable Packaging Management Act (“Draft Packaging Act“) has been developed to establish systematic and sustainable management of packaging waste.
The Draft Packaging Act is supported by the extended producer responsibility (EPR) approach that extends the manufacturer’s responsibility to cover the entire product lifecycle, i.e., to specifically cover the management of packaging waste of products after their consumption, such as recycling and disposal.
For Thailand, while the EPR had been earlier introduced to mainly address plastic waste issues as outlined in the Roadmap on Plastic Waste Management 2018-20301, the Draft Packaging Act will cover all types of containers and packages, including associated materials used in packaging or single-use materials which are determined as “packaging which must be sustainably managed” by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment. Packaging designed for multiple use and sold separately from products will be excluded from the definition of “packaging” and thus will not be regulated under the Draft Packaging Act. The first version of the sustainable packaging management plan is intended to cover at least packaging made of glass, metal, paper, plastic and composite materials.
Below are some key points to note, based on the latest version of the Draft Packaging Act (as of July 2023):
- Business operators to be regulated – “Responsible business operators,” who will be subject to the Draft Packaging Act, are defined as business operators who:
- Manufacture or import products using packaging bearing their own or others’ product label
- Manufacture or import packaging for sale, if the packaging does not bear a product label.
The “responsible business operators” do not include business operators who are considered “small enterprises” under the Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion Act, B.E. 2543 (2000) and those who manufacture or import products or manufacture or import packaging for export.
- Major obligations for business operators – The responsible business operators will be required to, among other things: (i) collect the used packaging for further management (e.g., reuse, recycle, safe disposal), in accordance with the sustainable packaging management plan which will be issued by the Packaging Management Committee; and (ii) comply with notifications as may be prescribed by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment in relation to the following topics:
- Criteria and types of “packaging which must be sustainably managed”
- Requirements on packaging management may include having in place a mandatory buy-back scheme or a deposit return scheme
- Prohibition of the manufacturing and importation of certain types of single-use packaging which may have adverse impacts on the environment or health
- Prohibition or restriction of the use of certain types of packaging in specific areas to prevent ecological system contamination
- Forms, types and conditions of labels or marks which must be displayed on packaging
- Contribution to an environmental fund for mitigation of environmental impacts caused by the contamination of packaging.
The applicable responsible business operators must also register with the Pollution Control Department (PCD), the main supervisory authority under the Draft Packaging Act.
- Introduction of PRO – The Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO), a central organization responsible for packaging management, will be established under the Draft Packaging Act with the support from the Federation of Thai Industries or the Thai Chamber of Commerce. In addition to its duty to develop a plan for sustainable packaging management, the PRO can be assigned by the responsible business operators who have membership with the PRO to perform certain obligations (e.g., collection of used packaging for sustainable management and preparation of the plan for sustainable packaging management) and the PRO can accordingly collect the management fees from the members.
- Packaging management plan – A responsible business operator who does not assign the PRO to manage their packaging is required to submit its plan for sustainable packaging management to the Director-General of the PCD for approval. The annual report on implementation of the plan must also be submitted. If the target of collection of the used packaging under the plan cannot be reached, the responsible business operator will be required to pay additional fees for the shortfall.
- Packaging waste management by local administrative bodies – The PRO will work with local administrative authorities to put in place the system to collect and separate the used packaging in each province. Disposal of used packaging together with other garbage without separation will be prohibited with a regulatory fine if violated.
- Right of consumers – Consumers will have right to bring their own containers to buy products in order to reduce the use of packaging without being refused by the seller, in accordance with future criteria and conditions.
- Penalties – All the penalties under the Draft Packaging Act (e.g., when an applicable business operator fails to register with the PCD) are subject to regulatory fines and therefore no imprisonment penalties. There is a provision prescribing a two-year grace period from the publication in the Government Gazette for the enforcement of the penalties.
Although the status of the Draft Packaging Act is still at an early stage and is subject to change, business operators are encouraged to prepare and closely monitor this legal development, especially as post-COVID-19 awareness of overall waste management steadily and substantially increases in Thailand. In fact, some quarters of the private sector have already been active in this space for quite some time. This is evident from the formation of a voluntary group several years ago, consisting of leading brand owners, consumer product manufacturers and packaging producers, all dedicated to improving the management of used packaging. Putting in place the Draft Packaging Act should lift Thailand to another level towards more responsible consumption and a more sustainable society.
In the next issue, we will discuss notable concepts under the Draft Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Management Act. Meanwhile, if you have questions or wish to discuss specific implications on your business and how we can assist, please contact us.