Environment Agency stretched to enforce Packaging Regulations

As of the beginning of last month, the Environment Agency is no longer accepting applications from companies to register under the Producer Responsibility (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 for this current year. Businesses that have failed to register face the risk of prosecution by the Environment Agency or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

Under the regulations, UK businesses handling packaging must recycle and recover more than half of their packaging waste by the year 2001. Currently, a company is only affected by the Packaging Waste Regulations if it falls into all three of the following categories:

– It is involved in either: the manufacture of raw materials used for packaging; the conversion of raw materials into packaging; packing or filling packaging; selling packaging or packaged products to the final user or customer; or the importing of packaging or packaged products.

– It owns and handles more than 50 tonnes of packaging materials or packaging each year. This includes imported packaging materials and packaged goods, but not exported.

– It has an annual turnover of more than £5m.

Companies will only be exempted from prosecution if they became obligated after the 7 November deadline, for example if there is a change in ownership of the company which means it suddenly becomes obligated; or if a compliance scheme’s registration is removed or it stops operating for any other reason and its members, therefore, have to register individually.

Producer responsibility manager for the Environment Agency, Ian White, commented: “This new legislation is extremely complex and many companies had problems in understanding their responsibilities. The Agency decided, therefore, to take a pragmatic and educational approach towards registration in this first year which meant that it has continued to accept applications after the official deadline for 1998.

“However, six months have now elapsed since the April deadline which the Agency believes is plenty of time for companies to get on board. We have decided, therefore, that we will no longer accept late applications and are warning companies that we will not hesitate to take action against any that have failed to register. In fact our officers are actively investigating companies to ensure they are complying with the law.”

According to Environment Agency figures, the number of businesses currently affected by the legislation is estimated to be more than 5,900. The number of companies that have registered, either individually with the Environment Agency or SEPA, with an existing compliance scheme, of which there are 13 in the UK, or as starting their own compliance scheme, amounts to 3,800.

The shortfall, some 2,100 businesses, obviously has implications for Agency resources involved in compliance monitoring. Especially as, according to Ailsa Bradwell, commercial manager for Waste Exchange Services (WES), operators of the WESPACK compliance scheme: “Many companies are of the opinion that it isn’t really necessary to do anything until they are hounded by the Environment Agency.”

Further, some companies – large retailers in particular – have in fact been pulling out of compliance schemes, claiming that the on receipt of multi-million pound bills.

Further, from the year 2000, when the turnover threshold is reduced to £1m, some 13,000 smaller businesses will also be subject to the Regulations.

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