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March for Independents: keep on top of waste packaging and avoid big fines

Published:  17 February, 2015

Today as part of the March for the Independents campaign we turn the spotlight on waste packaging. Not the most glamorous of topics but if you are an independent wine merchant, importing or distributing wine then you need to make sure you are compliant with your recycling oblilgations or risk potentially crippling fines.

Here we call on Dan Wellington,  an environmental constulant at Peak HSE Ltd to look at what steps independent wine merchants need to put in place to make sure they are the right side of the law when it comes to waste packaging. 

The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007, which originally came into effect at the end of August 1997 in Great Britain and in 1999 in Northern Ireland, was the first "producer responsibility" legislation in the UK.

 The Packaging Waste Regulations work on the principle of "collective producer responsibility" - forcing producers of packaging to take responsibility for their environmental impact. The regulations require obligated producers to pay a proportion of the cost of the recovery and recycling of their packaging.

There is still much confusion and misunderstanding about the rules and obligations which entail a cost of compliance. Dan Wellington, an environmental consultant, offers the trade some guidance.

Q. What are the Packaging Regulations?

A. The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations are part of a suite of laws designed to introduce producer responsibility on businesses to deal with priority waste streams. These regulations are intended to deal specifically with a priority waste stream in the form of "packaging" and in particular the regulations are designed to reduce the proportion of packaging waste going to landfill; increase the recovery and recycling of packaging waste; and put the burden of recovery and recycling on the producer.

The regulations have been put into place to meet the UK's packaging recovery and recycling targets set out in the European Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste.

Q. Am I affected by the Packaging Regulations?

A. If your business uses or handles packaging or packaging materials then you will be obligated under the regulations if you pass two threshold tests.

These are:

* Do you have a turnover of more than £2 million and handle 50 tonnes of packaging in a calendar year.

* Are you part of a a group that is obligated, then all subsidiaries will be obligated by aggregation and will need to register and provide data on any packaging that they carry out an activity on.


Handling packaging includes the manufacturing of packaging raw material, converting packaging raw materials into packages, packing or filling of packages with products, selling of the full packages to the final user, or importing packaging / packaging materials / packaged goods into the UK (as an importer).

For the hospitalities trade, a judicial review in 2002 determined that the seller of the packaging to the end user is the pub, club or restaurant.

Packaging is defined as being: "All products, made of any material of any nature, to be used for the containment, protection, handling, delivery and presentation of goods from raw material to processed goods from the producer to the user or the consumer, including non-returnable items."

The main materials are paper, glass, steel, aluminium, plastic and wood and other packaging.

It is very easy to underestimate the quantities of packaging that you handle. In particular the figure of 50 tonnes seems like a lot pf packaging, however glass is a relatively heavy packaging material and the weight of an average wine bottle can be as much as 500g. Add onto this the weight of cardboard packaging and wooden boxes and pallets and 50 tonnes may not be as far away as it first seems.

Do your own calculation

It's strongly recommended that you carry out a rough calculation with some average packaging weights to determine if you are close to or exceeding the 50 tonne threshold. This is an exercise that should be repeated when business circumstances change. If you are over or close to the threshold then you will need to carry out a more detailed calculation to determine the extent of your obligation.

When you work out if you handle 50 tonnes of packaging or more, don't include packaging or packing material you export or give to someone else to export. You must, however, be able to demonstrate what packaging you've exported.

Q. I already recycle a large proportion of my waste, does this exempt me from the requirements?

No. The legislation is specifically aimed at the recycling of packaging material and your obligation is based upon the packaging that you handle (i.e. the packaging that flows through your company), not the waste that you manage and handle through your own bins and skips.

The recycling or reuse of your waste streams, even if they are packaging materials, is obviously the best option environmentally and possibly financially but it does not exempt you from the requirements of this legislation.

It is worth remembering that when calculating the tonnage of packaging handled and any subsequent obligation, that packaging that you reuse will only need to be included in your calculation once. Any subsequent re-use of the packaging, for example reusable crates or pallets, will not attract an obligation and should not be included in your calculations a second (third or fourth) time.

Many businesses can significantly reduce their obligations under the regulations or even drop below the thresholds all together by sensibly discussing their options for reusable packaging with their suppliers and customers.

Q. What should I do if I meet the thresholds?

If you are over the two thresholds then there are three main obligations that you will have to meet:

1 Firstly you will need to register with the appropriate agency where your registered head office or main place of business is based, the Environment Agency, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Northern Ireland Environment Agency or Natural Resources Wales. You can do this either directly or through a compliance scheme. Your company must pay a fee to the agency, and submit to the agency or compliance scheme, packaging data for the obligated year(s).

If you feel that you have perhaps been obligated for some time and have only just realised we would suggest that you seek professional advice at this point.

2 Once registered you are required to take reasonable steps to recover and recycle specific tonnages of packaging waste, the specific targets are based on your role in the packaging chain, the packaging materials that you use and the tonnages that you handle.

3 Finally you must be able to certify to the Agency by 31 January following the obligated year that you have met your targets for recycling and reusing packaging waste. Evidence will be in the form of "packaging waste recovery notes" or "packaging waste export recovery notes" and this will be handled on your behalf by a compliance scheme if you choose to go down that particular route to compliance.

Q. What happens if I don't comply with the regulations?

If your business or group of businesses meets the thresholds - 50 tonnes and £2 million turnover - then you must register with the appropriate agency in the relevant compliance year.

If you fail to meet your legal obligations, or provide false or misleading information you may face prosecution under criminal law. In England and Wales there are also civil penalties including fixed penalty fines and enforcement undertakings.

Enforcement Undertakings (EU) have been commonly used for packaging offences. Under an EU a business that is non-compliant with the regulations will, in negotiation with the EA, set out a course of action to show that they will become compliant and stay compliant and importantly that they will provide action that will secure equivalent benefit or improvement to the environment. Enforcement undertakings can be proactive (e.g., self-reporting of suspected offences) or reactive (where the agency have notified the business that that they intend taking criminal or civil action got an alleged offence).

 Clearly professional advice should be taken in the event of the use of an EU. Guidance on EU use and offer forms can be found on the agency's webpages. A list of current EUs can be found at

Dan Wellington is the principal consultant at Peak HSE Ltd. He is an environmental professional with 15 years of experience in environmental consultancy.