Producer Responsibilities Obligations.
What does your business need to do to comply?
Depending on the size of your business, you may not be aware of the Producer Responsibility Regulations – more commonly known as the Packaging Waste Regulations. And you may not need to worry.
However, if your business has a turnover of more than £2 million, is based in the UK and either produces, uses or sells packaging products, chances are you are legally required to report your packaging use under the legislation.
With the deadline for registration looming, it is important to ensure that you are compliant if the law requires.
And even if you are not legally obliged to comply with the Packaging Waste Regulations, undertaking an assessment of your current packaging – and how you can reduce the volume you use and your carbon footprint – is always a worthwhile exercise.
This guide provides a full explanation of what the regulations are, how to check if you are affected, and what you should do if you are.
You can also download a quick reference guide as PDF below.
What are the Packaging Waste Regulations?
Before assessing whether your business needs to comply with the packaging waste regulations, it is important to actually explain what they are.
The regulations were originally introduced in 1997 in Great Britain (1999 in Northern Ireland), before being updated in 2007 to become the Producer Responsibilities Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007 that are effectively in place today.
The regulations work on the principal of collective responsibility – that all businesses involved in the production and use of packaging should contribute towards the cost of recycling and recovery.
This is achieved through a Packaging Recovery Note – or PRN – system (please see the “How it Works” section or further details).
The bottom line is that any business that performs an activity on packaging (“producers”) takes responsibility for the resulting environmental impact, and pay a fair proportion towards the costs of recovery and recycling. This in turn reduces the amount of packaging that ends up in landfill.
Who is responsible?
Whilst the price of PRNs varies depending on the availability of the material being recycled, there are differences in terms of who is responsible.
However, there are 4 specific business or activity types that qualify under the Packaging Waste Regulations.
These are as follows:
Converter: Responsible for 9% of recovery / recycling. This includes companies such as GWP Packaging that manufacture the corrugated boxes
Packer / Filler: Responsible for 37% of recovery / recycling. This is most likely your business – the company that fills the box with a specific product for transit or delivery.
Seller: Responsible for 48% of recovery / recycling. This would be the retail shop (such as a supermarket) that would sell the product and packaging to the end user.
It is also important to add that a wholesaler would normally be classed as a seller, but would have their obligation removed if the items were supplied to another reseller (i.e. they sold a pallet of products to a retailer).
How the Packaging Waste Regulations work
Any business that qualifies under the regulations is required to meet recycling targets (based on annual figures) that relates to the type and weight of packaging that they use / produce.
Whilst this initially involves registering with the appropriate authorities (or outsourcing to a third party) the next step would be to provide data that covers the weight and type of packaging your business has handled.
A set of targets – defined by the Government – are then applied to this to determine the amount in tonnes that your business is responsible for. Businesses must then prove that an equivalent volume of the specific material has been recycled, which they provide evidence of in the form of Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs).
PRNs must be purchased from accredited recycling companies that reprocess the specific materials your business is responsible for. A similar system – Packaging Export Recovery Notes (PERNs) are required for businesses exporting packaging material.
The price of these PRNs and PERNs are determined by market forces – effectively supply and demand.
For example, the amount and type of packaging you sell to consumers may see you have a target of 100 tonnes of glass and 5 tonnes of corrugated cardboard. In this scenario, you would need to prove and equivalent weight of these materials has been recycled.
This evidence would be purchased from a business that is registered / accredited as recycling these materials, in the form of the PRNs as detailed above.
But a recycler can only sell PRNs for the amount of material it recycles. So if the overall demand for evidence is less than the amount available, then the price of PRNs will be low.
If the market is tight – because more material is being used than recycled – the price will increase significantly. This higher price then makes collection and recycling more worthwhile, leading to increased PRN “evidence” being available (and costs falling again).
Ultimately, a business must be able to provide sufficient evidence to meet their targets.
Is your business affected by the Waste Regulations?
But are you affected by the Packaging Waste Regulations?
Well, there are a couple of simple questions to ask that quickly identify whether your business needs to comply.
Firstly, did your turnover in your last set of accounts exceed £2 million (including any subsidiaries if you are a group)?
Secondly, did your company or group of companies handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging in the last calendar year?
If you answer yes to both of the above, then you are obligated to comply with the packaging regulations. If you answered no to either or both of the questions, then you do not need to worry.
However, it is important to also consider two important definitions.
“Packaging” is considered as being any item (and manufactured from any material) that is used for their containment, handling, delivery and / or presentation of goods from the producer to the end user / consumer.
“Handling” packaging effectively covers any packaging that is placed onto the UK market, is owned by a business, and also includes manufacture and or conversion of packaging or packaging materials used by businesses around products it supplies. This includes imports, but does not include exports.
It should also be noted that any packaging used only within your business such as supply chain totes or line-side kitting trays – do not count as packaging under this definition.
For a further, detailed checklist on whether your business needs to comply, and what to do if it does, then please download the free guide towards the top of the this page.
What must you do?
If your business must legally comply with the producer responsibility obligations, there are a number of tasks and points that must be actioned.
A brief overview of these is as follows.
The first thing to do if you must comply with the packaging waste regs is to register.
Whether you decide to register yourself with the appropriate Environment Agency directly, or do so through a scheme provided by a third party company, you must do so by April 7th. Direct registration is carried out through the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD).
After the cut-off date, you will technically have committed an offence and could be prosecuted. However, it is advisable to still register even if you miss the date and, so far, there are no records of any business being penalised for late registration.
The appropriate agencies to register with for each region are as follows:
England – The Environment Agency (EA)
Scotland – The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
Wales: The Natural Resources Body for Wales (NRW)
Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).
The process for registering directly with the relevant Environment Agency is as follows:
Complete the registration process before April 7th (each year)
Pay a registration fee to the appropriate agency (this must be with the agency before 7th April)
During the compliance period purchase the necessary evidence – PRNs – to meet the targets
Submit a certificate of compliance to the agency before January 31st the following year.
Approved Compliance Schemes
The alternative to registering yourself, is to join an approved compliance scheme.
There are approximately 20 third parties offering this service, with the operator of the scheme taking on legal liabilities for the schemes’ members . This means that if the scheme fails to comply with the regulations, it is them and not the individual businesses that are prosecuted.
The members of the scheme still have to supply accurate data about packaging usage, but it’s then the scheme operators responsibility to purchase enough evidence in the form of packaging recovery notes (PRNs) to prove compliance at the end of the of the year.
There have been some modifications made to the regulations (2011 onwards) that defines producers as not being considered as a registered member of a scheme unless they have paid the membership fee, agency fee and have supplied the required data.
As mentioned previously, different activities or business types have different levels of responsibilities.
For example, a filler of packaging that handles 100 tonnes, will only be responsible for 37 tonnes (37%), with the remaining responsibility divided between the raw material producer, converter and final seller.
The government – through DEFRA – sets recycling targets to ensure that EU regulations are met and that there are ongoing improvements seen in the future.
Different recycling targets are applied to different materials, although there are 7 main categories. These are as follows:
Paper/card (cartons, labels of certain types, layer board, paper bags etc.)
Glass (bottles, jars)
Aluminium (cans, aerosols, foil trays)
Steel (cans, drums)
Plastic (bottles, pallet wrap, bags)
Wood (pallets, dunnage)
‘Other’ (includes miscellaneous items such as jute and cork).
The actual calculations when considering the activity percentage, recovery target and overall tonnage placed onto the market can be somewhat convoluted, but there are a number of calculators online (such as this one from 360 Environmental) that can aid this process.
Small Producer Regulations
For businesses that are obligated under the Packaging Waste Regulations, but have a turnover between 2 and £5 million, there is the option of registering as a small producer.
What this effectively means is they are eligible to use more simple calculations, achieved through a government set tonnage multiplied by their turnover in millions (of pounds).
For the period between 2017 and 2020, this figure is set at 30 tonnes per million pounds (£) of turnover. For example, a company with a turnover of £4.25 million would have an obligation of 127.5 tonnes, rounded up to 128 tonnes. This would then apply to the main or predominant type of packaging the business handles.
Packaging recycling targets
The below table highlights the individual recycling targets for specific materials.
Paper / Board
Please also note that the overall recycling target will be higher than sum of the material recycling targets. This difference can be made up with PRN evidence from any material (i.e. usually the cheapest to purchase).
Recovery evidence is generally where waste – which may contain elements of packaging – goes through an energy recovery process such as incineration to generate electricity.
Whether you decide to register directly with the appropriate environment agency, or as part of a scheme, your business will need to pay a fee which goes to the agency.
These fees are as follows
Through a Scheme
£180 each for first four
£90 each for 5-20
£45 each for any others
Subsidiaries in a Group Registration that use the Small Producer option do not pay subsidiary fees
Agencies will also charge a late registration fee of £110, plus a £220 fee for resubmission where the original submission is shown to be incorrect.
Schemes can charge a range of different fees, with some providing membership fees and then separate charges for PRNs, whereas others will charge a (potentially) higher fee that covers all costs related to compliance.
Are the Packaging Waste Regulations working?
There are just short of 7,000 companies (representing 10,000 businesses in total) that have registered as part of the Producer Responsibilities Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations. Of these, just under 6,300 have registered through a compliance scheme, with the others having registered directly with the appropriate agency.
There have been a number of prosecutions of businesses that either not registered or wilfully misreported their obligations (the largest fine to date has been £270,000).
However, civil sanctions are becoming increasingly common, with the agencies looking to monitor registered producers to ensure accurate data, as well as identifying those who are ignoring their responsibilities.
How GWP can help
Although elements of this process can sound daunting, if you take a methodical, logical approach to identifying your responsibilities and supplying the relevant information, it is something that you can do you yourself.
However, another option is to pay a specialist company to do this for you (prominent organisations offering this service include Valpack, Wastepack and Comply Direct to name but a few).
Whilst this obviously removes the time and effort (and stress) of doing this, there is of course a financial cost to your business of doing so.
If you decide to manage the process yourself, and you have sourced your packaging from GWP, then we will be happy to help.
Besides the usual guidance and support we aim to offer all of our customers, we can supply you with a detailed report of the packaging you have used in the qualifying period. This info is broken down by month, product type, material and weights, and can be easily supplied electronically.
Free Quote / Advice.
Complying with the Packaging Waste Regulations
The packaging waste regulations can be a complicated and daunting prospect. But complying with them can be relatively straightforward if you follow a tried and trusted process.
Plus, by being aware of the producer responsibility regulations, it can also get you into the mind-set of how you can reduce your packaging use, in turn not only reducing your costs but also the environmental impact.
So, if you are a GWP customer and require any assistance with your Packaging Waste Regulations registration or compliance, please do not hesitate to get in touch.