Defra has defended the commissioning of two research projects from compliance scheme and consultancy Valpak without opening a tender on the grounds of saving money.
Valpak’s consulting arm will work with WRAP to study the flow of metal and plastics packaging put onto the UK market to review existing figures on which packaging targets are set.
Industry insiders have expressed concern over a lack of a public selection process and claimed that there could be a possible conflict of interest in the consultancy arm of a compliance scheme carrying out research on packaging data.
“It is impossible to deny that the data affects Valpak trading position,” said one on condition of anonymity.
Richard Harris, compliance manager at Synergy Compliance, another compliance scheme, told MRW: “We questioned it internally here: was there the right sort of tendering process in terms of who was carrying out the research projects?
“Valpak are potentially very close to the results, which is going to affect the way they operate.”
Defra and WRAP confirmed to MRW there had been no tendering process.
Valpak will provide WRAP free access to their Environmental Products Information Centre database (EPIC), which contains information on product sales and associated packaging, including steel, aluminium and plastic packaging.
A Defra spokesperson said: “Tendering this research would either mean WRAP having to purchase the data from Valpak on the assumption that they were willing to sell it, or, more likely, would need to establish a data collection system and/or comparable database at considerable additional cost to WRAP in order to undertake the analysis WRAP requires.”
She added that Valpak had experience and a “very detailed knowledge and understanding of their database” and were therefore able to efficiently provide bespoke analysis of it for WRAP.
WRAP is funding Valpak to carry out the additional analysis. WRAP has not yet responded to MRW’s request to disclose the funding Valpak is going to receive.
A spokesperson for WRAP said the decision of appointing Valpak was based on a cost-saving assessment.
“Because WRAP is working in collaboration with Valpak consulting who co-fund the research, the cost to WRAP compared to our estimation of the likely cost which would be offered by the market is substantially lowered, thereby providing cost effective delivery and value for money.”
WRAP said Valpak was better placed to comment on the issue of possible conflict of interest. Valpak has declined to comment.
A spokesperson for Defra said: “The work is collaboration between WRAP and Valpak with input from industry stakeholders who will be considering and inputting into the development of the work. Defra will also oversee the work to ensure a robust and comprehensive result.”
Adam Read, waste management and resource efficiency director at consultancy Ricardo-AEA, said he believed Valpak to be the best candidate for the projects because of their in depth knowledge of the market.
“In my perspective they are the best positioned to carry out the research, even if as a competitor you might like to see this opportunities come around,” he said, adding he had no doubt the joint work would produce quality and robust evidence that would be useful for the entire sector.
“Valpak is a professional organisation that is going to do a good job and come back with really interesting information and not with a report that has been sanitised for the interest of its membership,” he said.
WRAP said it was planning to publish a report that will include the data used in the research, “subject to it not being commercially sensitive”.
Last year, WRAP and Valpak jointly carried out a project on the amount of glass put onto the UK market and the findings prompted Defra to launch a consultation on changing the business glass target. A decision is expected to be announced in the Budget on 19 March.
Defra said the plastics and metal research projects were aimed at ensuring that the base data underpinning the packaging recycling targets is “as comprehensive and robust as possible”.
WRAP said the decision to proceed with the projects followed “industry representations” from the metal packaging and plastic packaging industries.
In January 2014, a report for the British Plastics Federation indicated that the amount of plastics packaging put onto the UK market might be overestimated, leading to the UK recycling performance to have been “understated”.
MRW understands that a privately commissioned research on steel packaging was carried out in early 2013.
- Article updated on 5 March: in a previous version of the article the entity carrying out the joint research was referred to as “Valpak Consulting Ltd”, following a statement from WRAP. This has been corrected to Valpak’s consulting arm, as Valpak Consulting Ltd was dissolved in 2012.
- Article updated on 4 March to include a comment from Defra on the issue of possible conflict of interest and to reflect that Valpak declined to comment.