Although Valpak, the industry’s largest recycling organisation, is claiming victory over the Environment Agency following the finding that individual pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes are responsible for their packaging waste – rather than the breweries, the Environment Agency has yet to decide whether or not to appeal. Until now, this sector has escaped any legal responsibility for packaging waste recycling, says Valpak.

The case revolved around the issue of ‘seller’ responsibility. Under the Producer Responsibility (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 for packaging sold in pubs and other licensed premises, retailers are responsible for packaging waste. The question being considered was whether a customer buys only the drink within a bottle or both the bottle and the drink. The Environment Agency maintained that it was the former case, meaning that the bottle was not classed as packaging, but the judge agreed with Valpak that it was the latter.

In practice, when the regulations originally came into force the majority of pubs were owned by the major brewers who took on the obligation of packaging waste to simplify management for individual landlords. However, restructuring in the industry has seen many breweries withdraw from the retail end of the sector, and they argued that they were no longer responsible for the full recycling burden. Breweries retain the obligations relevant to packing and filling the bottles, but under the High Court ruling their overall responsibility is significantly less.

Valpak’s Jeremy Cuthbert told edie that Valpak is forecasting very little change to the levels of glass recycling as a result of the ruling. In practice, the large breweries still own many pub chains and so would continue to bear the ‘seller obligation’. Valpak runs smaller collection schemes for the smaller independent breweries and so expects to improve recycling rates within this sector.

He also emphasised that Valpak does not consider the situation a win-lose case underlining that it proceeded with the legal action in order to seek clarification as both systems had been operating and some pubs were falling between the two. In the face of tighter packaging targets, it wanted to ensure that all parties fully understood their responsibilities.

Media reports speculating that the Environment Agency is concerned that businesses owned by individual landlords will be too small to be covered by the regulations are untrue, an Agency spokesperson told edie. However, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) will have to factor any such changes into its recycling figures. The level at which companies become responsible for their packaging waste is an annual turnover of £2 million, or 50 tonnes of packaging waste per year.

The Agency is also concerned that the ruling might apply to packaging for non-alcoholic items in supermarkets and shops, although this will not be clear until the full transcript of the judgement has been studied.

The Agency has stated that it has not yet decided whether it will appeal or implement the decision. Implementation will require checking which additional companies need to be registered. However, a spokesperson for the Agency told edie that although the ruling comes into action straight away, those individual landlords who are now responsible for packaging waste are not at fault if they are not already registered.

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