Producer responsibility is an extension of the ‘polluter pays’ principle, which was one of the 27 Principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development in 1992. Producer responsibility is about ensuring businesses take responsibility for the products they place on the market at the end of their lifecycle.
The concept underlies European Directives on Packaging and Packaging Waste, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and the Restriction of the use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electronic and Electrical Equipment, Batteries and End of Life Vehicles (ELVs). These Directives place mandatory responsibility on producers to bear the costs of collection, sorting or treatment and recycling or recovery They seek to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill by setting targets for the re-use, recycling or recovery of certain types of products.
With regards to packaging the Regulations fall into two categories:-
The European context was set by the Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste 1994 as amended which laid out the following:
The EU Packaging Waste Directive was first transposed in the UK through the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997. The substantive regulations for producer responsibility obligations are the 2007 Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations, which cover recycling and recovery.
The Producer Responsibility Obligations apply to ‘Obligated Producers’ defined as those companies that:-
It is important to note that the obligations apply to the total amount of packaging handled, not the amount of packaging waste produced.
‘Handling’ means you:
If you are obligated, you must either register direct with the Environment Agency or through a compliance scheme.
This is the evidence required by producers of packaging waste to comply with the Producer Responsibility (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007 in the UK. Packaging producers and handlers are obligated to purchase a number of PRNs every year based on the type of their business and the amount of packaging they handle. This is referred to as the businesses PRN obligation. The PRN market is an open market allowing PRNs to be traded between accredited reprocessors and obligated companies that have a packaging obligation with trading taking place between 1st December the previous year and the 31st January the following year. As with any open market the cost of compliance will vary throughout the year driven by the fluctuating price of PRNs.
In order to comply, a business must calculate their PRN obligation (packaging obligation) for the current compliance year in each specific material. PRNs are material specific and businesses need only purchase PRNs to cover material that they have performed activity on.
The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2015 (‘the Regulations’) consolidates and revokes all earlier Regulations and lays down two key requirements:
The aggregate heavy metal limits apply to cadmium, mercury, lead and hexavalent chromium in packaging or packaging components and require that the total by weight of such metals should not exceed 100 ppm (subject to some exemptions).
The Regulations are policed by Trading Standards officers in England, Wales and Scotland, in Northern Ireland by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. Enforcers are able to prosecute any company that over-packages their goods, taking account of normal storage, handling and selling requirements. The Regulations DO NOT apply to retailers unless that retailer is selling under own brand, has imported the goods in packaging or has packaged the goods themselves.
There have been very few prosecutions under these Regulations although it is understood that many companies have been approached by Trading Standards about over-packaging and have withdrawn the item or repackaged it before action was taken.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) updated their guidance on the Regulations in October 2015.
Failure to comply with the essential requirements can be penalised by a fine of up to £5000 (level 5).
Regulators can tackle environmental offences in ways without going to court for example through civil (or non-criminal) sanctions, depending on the circumstances of the offence. These include:
It is advised to keep evidence that packaging complies with the current regulations. All documents should be kept for at least four years and any information that is asked for should be supplied within 28 days. Documents that should be kept are:
Data has to be provided on an annual basis to the environmental regulator. The data relates to the supply chain and is divided into four activities:
These activities share 100% of the responsibility for the packaging. The Raw Material Manufacturer takes 6%, the Convertor takes 9%, the Pack-filler takes 37% and the Seller takes 48%.
By James Murphy