Packaging waste: No soft option for non-compliance

In March a multinational biscuit company paid almost £40,000 to charity after the company failed to comply with the Producer Responsibility (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997-2007. This was an oversight by the company that went on for 15 years.

It may seem hard to believe that a business of this size could fail to be aware of the regulations for so many years, or that it would not have been picked up by the regulators before, but this is not an isolated case.

Between September 2014 and April 2015, more than £189,000 was paid to charities by businesses that failed to comply with these regulations, which are designed to encourage the recycling of waste packaging.

The Environment Agency discovery that a baby food company was not registered resulted in a pay out of nearly £415,000 in donations to charities last year. And failure to comply with the regulations has cost other firms too, including a food company paying more than £37,000 after it was prosecuted this month.

The introduction of civil sanctions in 2011 means the Environment Agency has more options to deal with non-compliant organisations and there are three routes the Environment Agency can take.

  • An enforcement undertaking, which enables the businesses to offer a sum of money in compensation to a suitable environmental project.
  • A fine of up to £250,000 based on the severity of the offence.
  • Prosecution for the most severe offences.

There are some suggestions that the civil sanction is the ‘soft option’ for dealing with non-compliance.

Preparing an enforcement undertaking takes a lot of work and a great deal of evidence must be provided to satisfy the regulators that the business has taken the process seriously. They must also, of course, cease offending, provide training and put forward compensation for the amount they have saved, both by not registering and by avoiding prosecution.

The process certainly serves its purpose to ensure the business follows correct procedures in future. And whilst they may have avoided prosecution, in most cases the civil sanction will have cost them considerably more than if they had registered for the correct number of years.

The process is not plain sailing but it is the only option if you are alerted to the fact that your business has failed to register. If you continue to hide behind ignorance of the regulations, you risk far higher costs and, even worse, the embarrassment of a possible prosecution and the negative press coverage that comes as a result. No price can be put on the reputation damage this can have on a business.

All of us involved in the packaging regulations must do our bit to help avoid cases such as this in the future. The regulations were introduced to reduce the impact of the packaging we create on the environment, but we can only achieve this if those businesses that are obligated understand and act on their responsibilities.

Martin Trigg-Knight is Clarity Environmental's Account Manager for packaging compliance. He provides ongoing support to our current compliance members, as well as introducing our schemes to new businesses looking for peace of mind and the confidence that their packaging compliance is fully taken care of.

Are you obligated under the packaging regulations?

If you believe that your business may be obligated under the Packaging Waste Regulations, contact our specialist team for a confidential discussion about the options available to you. Our approved packaging compliance scheme has helped many businesses to avoid criminal prosecution by completing and submitting enforcement undertakings on their behalf. Get in touch with our team for a no-obligation quote on 0845 129 7177.

This article first appeared in Packaging News.

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