The Local Government Association (LGA) and Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) want tougher fines for companies that use excessive packaging.
Government figures released today show that only four firms have been successfully prosecuted under current legislation.
Local authorities can prosecute companies that over-package goods under the 1999 EU Packaging Directive. However, the LGA argues that rules banning wasteful packaging are not effective, while maximum fines of £5,000 are not an adequate deterrent for large companies.
Tougher regulations would mean shops and manufacturers could not justify packaging on the basis of consumer acceptance and marketing.
LGA chairman Sandy Bruce-Lockhart said: The law which is supposed to ban excessive packaging is a toothless tiger. The fact that there have only been four successful prosecutions in the UK demonstrates the law simply isnt working.
Local authority trading standards services find their hands tied by regulations which allow retailers to defend excessive packaging claiming it is what the customer wants or that it is required for the purposes of marketing.
However, the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) director Jane Bickerstaffe said: I think the current legislation is working, companies now take great care not to put packaging on the market that contravenes the 1999 EU Packaging Directive. Some INCPEN members have redesigned packaging to reduce the materials used.
These regulations are unusual; there are only three European countries that enforce them, the UK, France and the Czech Republic.
It is expensive for all involved to go through the prosecution process as well as taking up trading standards officers time. Trading standards officers take a preventative approach, advising companies to reduce packaging to comply with regulations.
INCPEN are campaigning for an industry-funded watchdog, which would scrutinise any alleged cases of overpackaging.