The 75 kronor charge, introduced in March this year in order to ensure the state didn't lose out on VAT, has meant that many customers have chosen simply not to collect their items. Postnord is then obligated to send these goods back to the country of origin, due to international trade agreements.
The number of packages currently set to be returned is around 400,000, almost half the total number of items which have arrived from non-EU countries since March 1st, according to SVT. But the real number could be even higher, with a Postnord representative telling Expressen that a further 200,000 items are still awaiting collection, and will also have to be sent back if not picked up in time.
Previously, a loophole meant it was possible to receive goods worth less than 22 euros from a non-EU country without paying VAT. This meant that all kinds of items, from electrical gadgets to clothes and accessories, were much cheaper when purchased online, particularly from Chinese e-commerce sites such as Wish and Alibaba.
In the run-up to Christmas, as many as 160,000 parcels were arriving each day at Postnord's Stockholm terminal, with an average value of 50 kronor each.
The Swedish government estimated that the loophole meant the state coffers were missing out on at least half a billion kronor of VAT each year, and in January Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson called on the customs agency to present a plan to tackle the problem.
In response, the customs agency asked Postnord to charge VAT “from the first krona of the value of all goods”. The postal service said that it would charge an administration fee of 60 kronor plus VAT (75 kronor) for all items from outside the EU, in order to cover the costs.
The fee was introduced from March 1st, and although Postnord confirmed this in mid-January, some customers who ordered their items online before that date may not have realized this added cost would apply.
The result is the huge pile of post which must now be sent back.
Although the uncollected items must be returned to where they came from, they don't have to be sent using the same method of transportation. The majority will be returned by boat rather than air travel, which is the most common way they arrived in Sweden.
“We're happy about that, because it at least reduces the environmental impact of sending back all the goods. Obviously the ideal is that people don't order things they're not going to collect,” Postnord's communications director Thomas Backteman told SVT.
Backteman said that an extended time period to introduce the new payment system would have allowed both the postal service and consumers to better prepare, and that the company was still working on a solution to the problem.