Environmental regulations relating to packaging take two forms in the UK: the essential requirements regulations and the producer responsibility regulations. Read on to find out whether you are affected by these Regulations.

Essential Requirements Obligations.

These regulations were updated in 2015 with the revisions coming into force on 1 October 2015. If you package goods in the UK, or import already packaged goods, then the regulations apply to you.

Obligated companies must:

  • make sure they comply with all ‘essential requirements’ set out in Annex II of the Packaging Waste Directive. These requirements are laid out in Schedule 1 of the UK Regulations and relate to:
    • ensuring only the ‘minimum adequate amount’ of packaging is used. This is the amount of packaging necessary to ensure that levels of safety, hygiene and consumer expectations are met and that the product is protected;
    • ensuring that environmental impacts of disposal are minimised and that packaging is designed with resuse, recycling, and recovery in mind;
    • ensuring that ‘noxious and other hazardous substances and materials’ are minimised (see the ‘regulated metals’ bullet point below);
    • ensuring reusable packaging meets three specific conditions, namely that it must be capable of multiple ‘trips or rotations, it must meet workforce health and safety requirements; and it must (at end of life) meet the requirements for ‘recoverable packaging;
    • ensuring that waste packaging can be subjected to ‘material recycling…energy recovery…[or]…composting’ and that, in addition, biodegradable packaging will decompose into ‘carbon dioxide, biomass and water’.
  • make sure that levels of Lead, Mercury, Cadmium and Hexavalent Chromium (the ‘regulated metals’) do not exceed statutory thresholds. These thresholds apply to the packaging in its entirety, including any printing or labels. Current threshold levels are 100 parts per million, other than lead glass packaging and some plastic pallets and crates, and apply to each metal on its own or to combinations of two or more;
  • maintain ‘technical documentation’ to show – for each type of packaging they use – how they have complied with each of the obligations and provide this evidence pack within 28 days of a request from the relevant enforcement body (weights and measures authorities in Great Britain and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland);
  • keep the technical documentation for at least four years from the date they first used each type of packaging.

Companies sourcing packaging in the UK or most European countries should be able to easily confirm that their packaging meets the statutory requirements. However, importers are advised to review their products and to create, and maintain, an evidence trail of the steps they have taken to ensure compliance. A ‘due diligence’ defence is possible if it can be shown that every reasonable effort was taken to comply.