In 1994, Directive 94/62/EC, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, came into effect. Currently transposed into UK law under the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007 (as amended) and the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2015, the two laws allow for a producer responsibility regime for all packaging placed on the UK market.
Who is affected?
The Packaging Regulations stipulate that most businesses handling packaging (producers) along the supply chain are obligated under the regulations and therefore have to contribute to achieving certain recycling and recovery targets.
A threshold limit applies, so the business must handle 50 tonnes of packaging and have a turnover of £2m or more a year. Producers which do not meet these threshold limits (small producers) do not have a financial obligation and do not need to register.
Producers with a turnover of between £2m and £5m are classed as SMEs and can register either direct to the agencies or via a scheme. They can choose to use a simplified method of allocation calculation for their data requirements.
The obligation is split between different roles within the supply chain, with the percentage of responsibility also allocated dependent on the role within the supply chain (see ‘Roles and responsibilities’ table). If a business covers more than one role, for example packer/ filler and seller, its obligation will be the sum of the two percentages, dependent on the tonnage handled under each role.
Importer businesses are responsible for all roles prior to the goods arriving in the UK, as well as their own activities, so need to add these percentages. Exporters can deduct any packaging sent overseas.
Responsibilities of producers
A producer must do the following if it is above the thresholds:
- Choose to comply by either joining an agency-approved Producer Compliance Scheme (PCS) or by meeting the legal recycling and recovery obligation itself.
- Register either directly with the relevant agency or via a PCS.
- Submit previous compliance year data annually of packaging tonnages (per role), either direct to the relevant agency or to the PCS, by March each year.
- If it has registered individually, it must acquire sufficient evidence of recycling and recovery to prove it has met its targets.
- If it has registered with a PCS, even if that scheme does not comply, a producer cannot be prosecuted because the PCS has taken on its legal obligation.
- Each year producers can choose whether to change compliance schemes or to register individually.
Proving compliance: PRNs and PERNs In order to prove compliance, a number of recycling or recovery ‘certificates’ have to be presented which is equal to the obligation under the packaging regulations. These are known as Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs) or Packaging Export Recovery Notes (PERNs).
To work out the obligation, producers take the amount of packaging placed on the market (in tonnes) and multiply by the responsibility allocation (percentage) and then multiply this figure by the business recycling/recovery targets for the relevant year. The current recycling targets were introduced in December 2012 (shown in the table opposite). Glass targets were further amended in March 2014 (refer to ‘recent changes’ below).
PRNs can only be produced by accredited reprocessors and PERNs can only be produced by accredited exporters. They will show, in tonnes, the amount of material which has been processed and the type of material to which the note relates. Due to the demand for PRNs and PERNs from individual producers and PCSs, the system is a competitive market, fluctuating dependant on supply and demand for each material.
Accredited exporters and accredited reprocessors must show that PRN/PERN revenues are being used to:
- develop the collection coverage and reprocessing market
- develop collection and sortation of packaging waste.
There have been a number of changes which will affect the packaging regulations:
- The existing plastic recycling targets are very challenging, increasing by 15% over four years from 2014-17. There is currently much industry input and debate in terms of how the targets will be met and the likely costs.
Similarly to glass, Valpak and WRAP have undertaken a Plastic Flow study, the results of which were released in 2014. Preliminary results show that the total tonnage of plastic on the UK market is lower than previous estimates and therefore national recycling rates are higher than previously thought. The Government is currently considering whether to make any changes as a result of this
- In July 2014, the European Commission released a proposal to amend six waste directives, including the Waste Framework Directive and the Packaging Directive. The proposal was subsequently withdrawn by the new Commission to be replaced with a more ambitious proposal.
The new proposals were expected in early December 2015, and will form part of the Commission’s circular economy package. Once released, the proposal must be accepted by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers before publication in the Official Journal. Although there are no current timescales, this process can take one to two years.
- In early 2014, the Government decided to lower the business target for glass and adjust the glass re-melt proportion. This significantly reduced the cost to industry while ensuring that it continued to meet the minimum EU requirements.
- In 2015 the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2015 were released, consolidating the original regulations and amendments.