The Economic Union (EU) considered that too much packaging was being used then sent to landfill. In an attempt to improve sustainability, reduce the amount of unnecessary packaging and increase the rate of recycling they introduced the EU Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (94/62/EC). This placed a legal obligation on all member states to meet the following Recovery and Recycling targets:

From 2001 a minimum 50% by weight of the Packaging waste is to be Recovered. Within this general target, from 2001 a minimum 25% by weight of all Packaging waste is to be Recycled with a minimum of 15% by weight for each Packaging material. For 2008 the targets have been set at 55% by weight of the Packaging is to be Recycled with an overall 60% Recovery.

The legislation was introduced to the UK by an Act of Parliament which adopted the “Polluter Pays Principle” in its Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 (PWR). The regulations were drafted by the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions (DETR), came into force in 1997 and are policed by the Environment Agency (EA). Following several years of amendments the original regulations were updated on 15th March 2007.

Each member state has implemented the regulations in a different way, the UK approach was to set legally binding targets for British Industry and leave it to free market forces to meet those targets without Government subsidy or effort. The logic is that existing Recycling levels are determined by the economies of collecting, segregating, transporting, reprocessing and selling recycled materials. Therefore, to increase recycling you will need to change the economics of the process. They intended to do this by introducing legislation requiring businesses to obtain Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs), to closely control the Recycling operations licensed to issue PRNs but leave them free to exploit market forces to sell or exchange the PRNs on a commercial basis. The net result is that British businesses in the packaging chain must pay a negotiable levy to EA accredited Reprocessors which will subsidise their operations and encourage them to recycle more packaging.

These regulations place a legal responsibility on all packaging producers to register with the EA and recover or recycle a proportion of the packaging they handle. A producer is a legal person or organisation which “performs and activity on packaging” or “supplies packaging which he owns, to another stage in the chain or to the final user of the packaging”. The packaging chain is split into various stages, or “activities” which are summarised, with their associated activity obligations below. In addition the producer must satisfy all three threshold tests outlined below to become obligated. Where a business is part of a group then the tests are applied to the whole group not the individual operations.

The three threshold tests:

  • UK business which carries out an activity on Packaging Material that attracts an associated obligation (ie Raw Material Manufacturer, Converter, Packer / Filler, Seller or Importer).
  • Turnover above £5 million 1997 to 1999 inclusive, reduced to £2 million from 2000.
  • Business handles in excess of 50 tonnes of obligated packaging material pa.

Packaging is defined as “…products made of any materials of any nature to be used for the containment, protection, handling, delivery, and presentation of goods…”. Recovery and recycling obligations are based upon the tonnages of plastic, cardboard, paper, steel, aluminium, glass and timber packaging handled during the preceding year.

Recovery is defined as “.. the use of combustible packaging waste as a means to generate energy through direct incineration with or without other waste but with recovery of the heat”. This encompasses most commercial waste to energy plants.

Recycling is defined as “… the reprocessing in a production process of the waste materials for the original purpose or for other purposes, including organic recycling but excluding energy recovery”.

Calculation of the Obligation

Each producer must calculate the weight of individual Packaging materials they handle during a calendar year in order to calculate their obligation. The packaging materials are paper / card, plastic, steel, aluminium, glass, wood and “other” such as ceramics and Hessian. This data must be “as accurate as reasonably possible” with the accuracy improving year on year. Increasingly, the EA expects producers to have computer databases to record and retrieve unit packaging weights, quantities handled, their source and destination. This data should be verifiable, for example by reference to purchase and sales invoices, shipping documents, stockholdings and sample weights. These calculations can be rather complex as the targets depend upon material type, activity carried out, origin and destination of each single packaging item, this is an area where we can assist in identifying and charting the various packaging flows and their associated percentage obligations. The historic data from the previous year is used to calculate the size of obligation in the following year. By using historic data a producer has a known objective at the beginning of the year rather than trying to continuously update obligations as the year progresses.

Activity Obligations

The packaging chain has been split into stages and the burden of compliance spread amongst the different stages. These activities further down the chain, closer to the end user carry the greater burden as they are deemed to have more control over the packaging quantities and specification. They are therefore in a better position to reduce unnecessary packaging and produce a greater quantity of “back door waste” that is suitable for recycling. If we consider the Packaging chain for a cardboard box then the various obligated companies might be:

  • Manufacturer = Smurfitts when they manufacture cardboard sheets from wood pulp.
  • Convertor = Dunstable Cartons who convert cardboard sheets into flat boxes.
  • Packer / Filler = Adidas who package trainers in cardboard boxes.
  • Seller = Sports & Soccer who sell the shoes in their stores.
  • End User = Joe Bloggs who buys the shoes and throws away the boxes.