Liz Wilks: The European Union Timber Regulation and the packaging industry

Liz Wilks of APP discusses the forthcoming EU Timber Regulations and the packaging industry.

liz wilks

The European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) entering into force on the 3 March 2013 will make it a legal obligation for the packaging industry to do its bit in the fight against illegal logging.

What do producers and users of packaging need to know?

The EUTR applies to nearly all timber products, whether they are imported or domestically produced. The EUTR also comes with new legal responsibilities for two very broad groups of businesses – in the parlance of the EUTR – “Traders” and “Operators”.

“Traders”, those purchasing timber products that have already been placed on the EU market, will now need to maintain records identifying the “operator” the product was purchased from.

An “operator” by contrast is any organisation that places a timber product on the European single market for the first time as a commercial activity. Under the EUTR, operators will have a responsibility to demonstrate that the timber products they place on the single market were sourced legally.

Operators will need to implement capable due diligence systems by 3 March 2013.

A capable due diligence system must have three components:

  • Information – The operator must have access to specific information on the product, supplier, country of origin and information on compliance with applicable forestry legislation
  • Risk assessment procedure – Each operator is required to establish a system that reviews the information collected about the product and also relevant risk criteria. High risk criteria could include long and complex supply chains whilst low risk criteria could include third party certification or credible verification of legality
  • Risk mitigation procedures – If the risk assessment indicates that there is some risk of a product containing illegally harvested timber, risk mitigation such as sourcing further information or switching suppliers must take place.

Reducing the impact of due diligence systems

Establishing a capable due diligence system is not optional, but operators can look to reduce their costs by sourcing products that can be shown to be low risk based solely on the information provided with the product – i.e. thus demonstrating that further risk mitigation is not required.

What information should operators be looking for?

For some products such as North American wood in the rough, the country and product description alone will be enough to demonstrate low risk – as North America does not suffer from illegal logging. However, for packaging or other composite products then this information alone will not be sufficient.

Certification will play a key role in meeting the “information gap” on these types of products

Operators can look for independent third party schemes such as  the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). As reported, several packaging groups are choosing this route – schemes such as these provide a level of assurance that the covered product is low risk. However, operators will still need to demonstrate that the product sourced is covered by the given certification. Alternatively, operators can look for certification at a national level which demonstrates that the certified timber product has been sourced in accordance with the laws of the country of origin. For example, Indonesia has developed SVLK certification, and it is this that operators sourcing from Indonesia will need to look for.

The EUTR is to be welcomed. By closing the world’s largest economy to illegal timber, the EUTR will reduce the problem of illegal logging. The significance of illegal logging should not be underestimated; a recent joint INTERPOL / UNEP report estimated that it comprises 15-30% of the global timber trade.

What then for operators?  Smart operators will now be minimising the impact of the EUTR by working with suppliers that can readily demonstrate compliance with country of origin applicable legislation.

Defra is currently conducting an open consultation into enforcement of the EUTR in the UK, for more information please see:

Dr. Liz Wilks is European Stakeholder and Sustainability Manager at Asia Pulp & Paper