Mircea Fechet, a minister disconnected from reality

George Marinescu
English Section / 21 septembrie 2023

Mircea Fechet, Minister of the Environment: "The deadline of November 30, 2023 remains the deadline for the guarantee-return system to start in Romania. The term is not negotiable. I understand the concern of the industry, but I also understand the interest of the citizens, to live in a cleaner world, without PETs". (Photo source: capture from the FB page of the Ministry of the Environment)

Mircea Fechet, Minister of the Environment: "The deadline of November 30, 2023 remains the deadline for the guarantee-return system to start in Romania. The term is not negotiable. I understand the concern of the industry, but I also understand the interest of the citizens, to live in a cleaner world, without PETs". (Photo source: capture from the FB page of the Ministry of the Environment)

Versiunea în limba română

The operationalization of the Return Guarantee System (SGR) on November 30, 2023 seems to have become a personal ambition of Mircea Fechet, the Minister of the Environment, who recently rejected the request to postpone the deadline by at least three months sent by SC Returo SA, the administrator of the system, company of which the relevant ministry is also a part.

Despite the multiple arguments on which that request was based, Mircea Fechet, the Minister of the Environment, refused the postponement and declared: The deadline of November 30, 2023 remains the deadline when the guarantee-return system will start in Romania. The term is not negotiable. I understand the industry's concern, but I also understand the citizens' interest in living in a cleaner world without PETs. We do not deviate one millimeter from the roadmap. A country cannot be built on delays and we cannot perpetuate this system of delays. The industry had five years, starting in 2018, to prepare for this system to come into force. We have legislation that spells out extended producer responsibility very well, and whether you're a small traditional drinks producer or the biggest drinks company in the world, the onus on packaging management is yours and I expect there to be compliance with the legislation in force".

The Minister of the Environment recalled that the SGR system was supposed to come into force on January 1, 2021, then it was postponed to October 1, 2022, and then postponed to November 30, 2023.

Moreover, yesterday, at the meeting with Returo representatives, Minister Mircea Fechet said: "You have 73 days left until the system is officially launched and I don't want you to lose a single day of the remaining days. There was enough time in the last 5 years to lay the foundations of a system that would transform us from the country of storage to the country of recycling, and this expectation led us to have no other scenario on the table than the one that everyone knows: the launch of the system at 30 Nov 2023.

Waste management in our country is a subject in which we can no longer afford to be patient, we can only afford to act".

The above two statements of Minister Mircea Fechet are erroneous. The industry did not have five years to comply, but only two years, because the rest - 2020, 2021 and 2022 - were pandemic years (the first two), with great restrictions on the carrying out of the activity and frequent syncopations in the chains of supply, problems that led to the postponement of some investments by producers, or years of war (2022), after Russia illegally invaded eastern Ukraine, a conflict that left its mark on both electricity and heat costs, as well as on supply chains. To claim that in all these five years it is the industry's fault that it did not concern itself with the implementation of the SGR is an error, as long as it operated in failure mode for three years.

Another error in the statements of the Minister of the Environment is the one concerning the responsibility for the implementation of the SGR. Mircea Fechet refers only to the producers of recyclable packaging (glass, PET and metal cans) and does not say a word about the rest of the traders who, according to the law and the related government decision, are involved in the return guarantee system. It is primarily about large retailers and small retailers (convenience stores, the so-called traditional trade). That is, about the private business environment that has to invest in storage spaces for recyclable packaging or in automatic collection and sorting machines - RVM, the business environment that felt the most the effects of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, registering a setback regarding volumes sold and revenues. Mircea Fechet probably only read the INS data on the increase in turnover in the last two years for small retailers, but he did not take into account that the increase in turnover is due to double-digit inflation and not to any increase in traded volumes.

And as for storage premises, the SGR legislation does not mention whether small retailers need to obtain special authorization from the Veterinary Health and Food Safety Directorates and the Public Health Directorates, given that the initial authorization probably does not say that it is allowed to store these packages - coming from anywhere - on a certain surface, especially since, for example in the HoReCa field and not only, the respective packages also contain part of the original liquid.

Moreover, even SC Returo SA is not prepared in advance for the successful start on November 30, 2023 of the SGR. There are still tens of thousands of merchants not registered in the system, there are only contracts for manufacturers, and the contract for merchants has not yet been made transparent before it is determined and sent to the big and small to sign from retailers. Bearing in mind that we are close to the end of September, we are curious how almost 70,000 contracts will be signed in a quick period and how the small retailers will organize themselves so that the system becomes functional on November 30, as Minister Mircea Fechet says.

It seems that the implementation of the SGR on November 30, 2023 has nothing to do with the reality on the ground, from which the Minister of the Environment seems totally disconnected, especially since, as he has become accustomed to lately, his visits regarding the inauguration of some RVMs are made at major retailer locations.

Let's wonder in these conditions that Mircea Fechet omitted from his statements - intentionally or not, that remains to be determined along the way - the small traders, but also the administrative-territorial units that should also be part of the implementation process , but which many of them, especially in rural areas, do not have the necessary resources for this new activity?

The implementation of the SGR on November 30, 2023 is not the only objective broken by the reality on the ground of Minister Mircea Fechet. Immediately after becoming Minister of the Environment, Mircea Fechet ordered the modification of the order issued by the former minister Tanczos Barna, which provided for the harvesting of 55 bears in the intervention quota and another 426 in the prevention quota, during 2023. By the new order, Minister Fechet reduced the harvesting quota to only 220 specimens, 140 for the prevention quota and 80 for the intervention quota.

The Minister of the Environment issued the order despite the opinion of specialists who claim that there should not be more than 4000 bears in our country. Such an opinion belongs to Ovidiu Ionescu, a professor of the Faculty of Forestry and Forestry at Transilvania University in Braşov, who recently told Jurnalul.ro: "These quotas are insufficient. They should be at least three times larger, to be effective, considering the fact that the maximum number of bears should not exceed 4,000 specimens, to actually take place in Romania's forests. By the new Minister's Order, these quotas are not given to managers of hunting funds, but given to specialized staff, and hunting associations should hunt on their own money. He might even refuse. In Braşov, the bear population is far above the optimal ecological, economic and social level. There has never been such a situation before. We should decrease the number of conflicts with man. When measures are not taken, the population starts to do justice to itself, and some poison the bears, so that they will not be attacked in their homes".

According to the studies referred to by the cited source, optimal for Braşov County would be no more than 340 bears, and for the entire country, about 4,000, but the number of mammals could reach three times higher next spring.

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