PakaWaste Waste Handling Systems

Packaging regulations

This guidance applies to you if you own, manage or work for a business that produces, uses or handles packaging or packaging materials.

Producer Responsibility Obligations - What you must do!

If your business handles more than 50 tonnes of packaging in a year and has a turnover of more than £2 million, you must comply with the Producer Responsibility Obligations. These obligations require you to:

  • register with your environmental regulator, and
  • recycle and recover certain amounts of packaging waste.

Do the Producer Responsibility Obligations apply to you?

These obligations for packaging waste only apply to businesses that:

handle more than 50 tonnes of obligated packaging or packaging materials in a year, and

have an annual turnover of more than £2 million (based on the last financial year).

If your business belongs to a group of companies these requirements apply to the total amount of packaging handled by the group and its total annual turnover.

Note: the obligations apply to the total amount of packaging handled, not the amount of packaging waste produced.

If you lease or hire out packaging, operate a franchise or if you are a pub operating business, these requirements will apply to you.

Which regulations apply to you?

  • In England, Scotland and Wales, the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2005 apply. These regulations include provisions for people that lease property, franchisers and other licensors, which were previously exempt.
  • In Northern Ireland the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 apply.

Your business handles packaging if it

  • manufactures raw materials for packaging
  • converts raw materials into packaging
  • fills packaging
  • sells packaged goods to the final user
  • provides a service, including: leasing or hiring out packaging such as pallets, franchising and other licensing, operating pubs
  • imports packaging, packaging materials or packaged goods into the UK for any of the above activities
  • brings transit packaging into the UK that will end up in the UK waste stream.

What is packaging?

Packaging includes all products used to contain, protect, handle, deliver or present goods. Goods may include anything from raw materials to processed goods.

Packaging also includes returnable and non-returnable items such as boxes, pallets, labels, containers, tubes, bags and sacks. These may be made out of paper, board, wood, glass, metals, plastics, hessian, jute and ceramics. Packaging can also include tape, wrapping, binding and tying materials.

What is packaging waste?

In England, Scotland and Wales, the Environment Agency and SEPA have published a guidance document to help you identify your packaging waste.

How to comply with your packaging waste obligations

You need to:

  • register with your environmental regulator, and
  • show that you have met your recycling and recovery targets.

How do you do this?

1. Compliance Schemes

You may join a registered compliance scheme, which carries out your obligations for you.

If you join a registered compliance scheme you do not have to meet your obligations yourself. The scheme takes on your business’ recovery and recycling obligations. This includes obtaining evidence of recovery and recycling, by providing Packaging Waste Recovery Notes (PRNs) or Packaging Waste Export Recovery Notes (PERNs), and reporting on compliance to the regulator.

You will have to supply the compliance scheme with relevant data (ie how many tonnes of packaging you handle) and pay a fee. This fee normally includes a reduced registration fee, which the scheme pays to the regulator on your behalf.

The Environmental Regulators have produced a list of registered compliance schemes in the UK.

2. Individual Route

You may calculate your own recycling and recovery requirements, and register individually with your environmental regulator.

If you choose the individual route to meet your packaging waste obligations you need to follow the steps described below.

a. Assess how much packaging your business handled in the previous year

To calculate your recovery and recycling obligations for the coming year you need to know:

  • The amount of packaging and packaging materials that you handled in the last calendar year. Note: this is the amount of packaging handled, not packaging waste produced.
  • The activity you performed on each material (eg raw material manufacturing, converting, etc.) and the “percentage obligation” (ie the percentage of packaging that your business needs to recover or recycle) associated with each activity.
  • The UK business recovery and recycling targets for the year.

Defra has produced guidance on calculating your obligations,

b. Confirm that you have met your recovery and recycling obligations by 31 January of the following year

  • You must submit a Certificate of Compliance, issued by an approved person (for example, a partner or director), by 31 January each year to your environmental regulator. You must provide copies of evidence of compliance to support your certificate.
  • You do not have to recover or recycle packaging waste yourself nor do you have to recover or recycle the actual packaging that you supplied.
  • Reprocessors and exporters of UK packaging waste can issue evidence of recovery and recycling to producers.
  • This evidence is issued in the form of Packaging Waste Recovery Notes (PRNs), issued by UK reprocessors, or Packaging Waste Export Recovery Notes (PERNs), issued by UK exporters of packaging waste.
  • Reprocessors and exporters will normally charge a fee for PRNs and PERNs. The cost is not set at a fixed rate, but depends on market conditions.

c. Provide certain information to consumers

If your business’ main packaging activity is selling packaging or finished goods in packaging to the final user or consumer, you must tell your customers about:

  • the return, recovery and collection facilities available to them, and
  • their role in achieving reuse, recovery and recycling of packaging and packaging waste.
  • If you are a small producer (ie a business handling more than 50 tonnes of packaging per year, and with a turnover between £2 million and £5 million), you may wish to follow the allocation method. You will not have to determine how much packaging you handle, and your obligations depend on your turnover.

3. If you are a small producer (ie you have a turnover between £2 million and £5 million, and handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging per year), you can choose to follow the allocation method.

Your obligations depend on your turnover, and are derived from a table provided with the registration pack.

This is a voluntary method, but if you choose to use the allocation method, you must follow it for at least three years.

What does the allocation method involve?

  • You will not need to provide information about packaging handled each year to your environmental regulator, nor will you have to calculate your own obligations.


  • You will need to show evidence of your turnover.
  • You will still have to register with your environmental regulator or join a compliance scheme, where you will pay a reduced registration fee.
  • Your recycling obligation will be based on your turnover. Use the table in the registration pack to calculate your obligation.
  • Your recycling obligation will apply to the main packaging material that you handle.
  • You will need to provide evidence that you have met the recovery and recycling targets set in the table. This consists of Packaging Waste Recovery Notes (PRNs) or Packaging Waste Export Recovery Notes (PERNs).
  • PRNs and PERNs are obtained from accredited exporters and reprocessors.
  • Whichever method you choose, you must keep records for at least four years to prove compliance.

Good practice guidance for packaging waste

Even if the Producer Responsibility Obligations do not apply to you, it is a good idea to reduce, recycle and reuse packaging. Your business may save money and you will be helping the environment.

  • Use the minimum packaging required for safety, hygiene and consumer acceptance.
  • Where possible use packaging that can be reused, recycled or recovered.
  • When designing and manufacturing packaging, if it cannot be recovered or reused, make sure it will have a minimal impact on the environment. If packaging waste has to be incinerated or disposed of at a landfill, make sure any hazardous substances are minimised.
  • Wherever possible, design packaging so that it can be reused several times.
  • If you sell packaging, tell your customers about the return, recovery and collection facilities available to them. Emphasise the importance of their role in achieving reuse and recovery of packaging and packaging waste.

Essential Requirements Regulations - What you must do!

If your business produces packed products, or places packaging or packaged goods on the market, you must comply with the Essential Requirements Regulations. These regulations require you to:

  • minimise the packaging used
  • ensure packaging can be reused or recycled
  • ensure packaging does not contain high levels of certain heavy metals

Are the Essential Requirements relevant to your businesses?

They are if you:

  • design, specify or produce packaging
  • pack or fill packaging to sell
  • claim to have packed or filled packaging by putting their name on the packaging, or
  • import packaging.

If you pack products, fill packaging or import packed goods or packaging into the United Kingdom, you must ensure that the packaging meets the Essential Requirements.

Packaging includes all products that are used to contain, protect, handle, deliver and present goods. This includes non-returnable items.

The Essential Requirements apply to businesses throughout the United Kingdom, regardless of their turnover and the quantities of packaging manufactured.

Exemptions from the Essential Requirements for packaging

The Essential Requirements apply to all packaging except:

  • packaging which was used prior to 31 December 1994
  • packaging manufactured on or before 31 December 1994 and placed on the market no later than 31 December 1999, and
  • packaging made entirely from lead crystal glass.

Partial exemptions are available in relation to the concentration of regulated heavy metals. Regulated metals are lead, cadmium, mercury or hexavalent chromium.

Until 4 March 2009, plastic pallets and crates with heavy metal concentrations greater than those allowed by the regulations may be placed on the market if certain criteria are met.

Glass packaging may contain up to 100ppm (parts per million), by weight, of regulated heavy metals. This level may be raised to 250ppm, if recycled materials have been added. This only applies if no regulated metals are introduced during manufacture.

For more information on these partial exemptions, please refer to the Department of Trade and Industry Guidance Notes for Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations.

How to comply with the Essential Requirements for packaging

To comply with the Essential Requirements, you must:

  • minimise packaging weight and volume (subject to safety, hygiene and consumer acceptance)
  • make sure packaging can be recovered, or produce packaging that is reusable
  • make sure packaging has a minimal impact on the environment after disposal
  • make sure packaging is manufactured to contain minimum levels of hazardous substances
  • make sure the amount of cadmium, mercury, lead and hexavalent chromium, or any combination of these heavy metals, does not exceed 100ppm (parts per million) by weight. These limits apply to packaging and any packaging components, and
  • keep evidence for at least four years from the date that the packaging was placed on the market that it complies with the Essential Requirements. You need to be able to supply these details to your enforcing organisation within 28 days, if requested.

Packaging Recovery Methods

  • All packaging must be recoverable by one of the following methods and you must comply with the associated targets:
  • material recycling – the packaging must be manufactured so that a certain percentage (by weight) of the material can be recycled.
  • energy recovery – the packaging waste must be processed to allow for maximum energy recovery. This means that any packaging waste burned must produce more energy than is used by the incineration process.
  • composting – the packaging waste processed must be biodegradable and not hinder the collection or composting process.
  • biodegradation – packaging must ultimately decompose into carbon dioxide, biomass and water.

Reusable packaging must be capable of being used several times. Once at the end of its useful life, it must also meet the requirements for recovery listed above.

Essential Requirements for packaging - good practice guidance

Set up an Environmental Management System (EMS), to manage your environmental responsibilities and demonstrate that you comply with the regulations. Make sure you keep all records for at least four years, and regularly review your EMS.

  • Create buying specifications for your business, which state that all packaging must comply with the regulations.
  • For each packaging component you use, get written evidence from suppliers that it is within the heavy metal limits, there are no noxious substances and that it is suitable for incineration, composting or recycling.
  • If packaging is intended for reuse, make sure you have documented the systems for supply, return and re-fill.
  • Document the main ways in which you are minimising packaging. For example, through your manufacturing process or transportation method.
  • Some British Standards help clarify the Essential Requirements. You may use these to show that you comply with the regulations. The following standards are relevant:
    • BS13428:2004 – Source Reduction
    • BS13429:2004 – Reuse
    • BS13430:2004 – Material Recovery/Recycling
    • BS13431:2004 – Energy Recovery
    • BS13432:2000 – Composting and Biodegradation

To buy these publications online you will need to register with British Standards.

What is an Environmental Management System (EMS)?

An Environmental Management System (EMS) provides a structured, documented approach to managing a business’s environmental performance and responsibilities. An EMS must include certain elements, as required by the international standard ISO 14001. Businesses can choose to be certified that they meet the requirements using either internal (in-house) mechanisms or external certification organisations.

In the UK, businesses may achieve certification under three standards or schemes:

  • ISO 14001 is the international standard for EMSs, and specifies the requirements necessary for organisations to implement an EMS.
  • EMAS (the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme) is a voluntary EU wide scheme. ISO 14001 is effectively the management element of EMAS and can stand alone. Registration under EMAS requires an ISO 14001 based environmental management system as well as additional elements, such as an Environmental Statement that has been verified by a suitably competent person.
  • BS 8555 is a new standard launched by the British Standards Institute, aimed particularly at small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The standard breaks down the implementation process for ISO 14001 or EMAS into six separate stages. Under the Acorn Inspection Scheme, developed by The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), businesses can gain accredited inspection and recognition for their achievements at each step as they work towards full implementation of ISO 14001 or EMAS.

What are the benefits of implementing an EMS?

The key benefits of an EMS to any business are listed below.

  • Complying with environmental legislation can improve relations with the Environmental Regulators, and help your business to avoid enforcement action and associated liability costs.
  • Cost savings can be achieved through more efficient use of materials and energy.
  • Independent certification of the system to a recognised standard may improve the public image of the business and community relations. It can also enhance competitiveness. Many businesses, as part of their own EMS, require suppliers and contractors to have an accredited EMS.

The Environmental Regulatory Agencies and EMS: Why are we telling you about this?

Adoption of an EMS is not a regulatory requirement for businesses. However, implementing an EMS can make it easier for you to comply with the requirements of the law, and your business may benefit from implementing an EMS.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has issued a government position statement on EMSs. This statement outlines the uses and benefits of a robust and credible EMS that follows a national or international standard or scheme, and that is audited by an independent certifier accredited by UKAS. The full statement can be accessed using the link below.

Why do you have to comply?

Each year around 10 million tonnes of packaging waste is produced in the UK, most of which is disposed of in landfill sites. A large amount of this waste could be recycled.

The European Commission has set targets for member states to recover and recycle packaging waste. By 31 December 2008, at least 60% of the UK’s packaging waste must be recovered, and 55-80% must be recycled.