More environmental protection in e-commerce

German Environment Agency: Operators of e-marketplaces must step up action against illegal imports

eine Frau bestellt vor ihrem Kleiderschrank mit ihrem Smartphone KleidungClick to enlarge
E-commerce: Goods from third countries do not always comply with European regulations
Source: Stanisic Vladimir / Fotolia.com

Round-the-clock shopping and (from) anywhere at all – e-commerce makes it all possible. As a result, much of the goods traded are often returned and all too often destroyed. "The situation urgently requires some readjustment, and in e-commerce in particular. We recommend imposing an obligation on e-commerce platform operators to check whether their vendors’ electrical and electronic products, batteries and packaging are properly registered,” said Maria Krautzberger, President of the German Environment Agency (UBA). At a conference on 18 June 2019 co-hosted by UBA, the Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection, around 160 experts discussed these and other requirements for an efficient regulation and surveillance of electrical and electronic equipment, batteries, packaging and chemicals.

UBA considers the third country free-rider situation an urgent problem. Third-country businesses are using e-commerce platforms to introduce massive quantities of electrical and electronic equipment, batteries and packaging illegally to the German market, without assuming any of the costs for their take-back and recycling. The enforcement agencies are powerless to prevent this under current law. The OECD estimates that more than 460,000 tonnes of electrical/electronic equipment is now being placed on the market illegally in Europe every year. These products may also contain banned chemicals which bear risks for consumers.

The new European Market Surveillance Regulation soon to enter into force ensures only marginal improvement on e-marketplaces because the regulation can only trigger measures in specific cases of breach of the law and under the most stringent of conditions. German producers abiding by environmental law will therefore continue to face enormous competitive disadvantages even after the regulation takes effect because they must bear not only their own costs associated with the assumption of product responsibility but also the costs for the disposal of third country, free-rider goods.

This regulatory gap could easily and efficiently be closed, namely by making it mandatory for e-marketplace operators – as for the vendor – to provide proof of proper registration of producers under the Electronic Equipment Act (ElektroG), Batteries Act (BattG) and Packaging Act (VerpackG). Unlike the European Market Surveillance Regulation, the effect of standardising such a requirement for e-marketplaces under ElektroG, BattG and Packaging Act (VerpackG) would mean that (with IT support) only offers from verified (i.e. registered) vendors would be advertised on e-marketplaces.

Umweltbundesamt Hauptsitz

Wörlitzer Platz 1
06844 Dessau-Roßlau
Germany