The choices that businesses make about the way they design, use and dispose of packaging impacts on the environment. Packaging waste makes up around 20 per cent by weight of the average household dustbin and around three per cent of landfill.
Although the amount of packaging being recycled is increasing - particularly paper, wood, metals and glass – businesses can do more to use less packaging, thus lowering their costs and reducing the waste created.
You should keep the amount of packaging you use to a minimum, design your packaging so that it is easy to reuse and recycle, and reuse and recycle packaging waste from your business wherever possible. This can bring business benefits such as reduced costs and an enhanced reputation.
This guide describes the main packaging legislation that businesses must comply with. It also suggests ways to improve your use of packaging.
Comply with packaging waste obligations
If your business handles more than 50 tonnes of packaging a year and has a turnover of over £2 million there are certain legal obligations you must comply with. To work out whether your business is affected, it's important to understand what "packaging" and "handling packaging" mean.
Definition of packaging and handling packaging
Packaging is anything used to contain, protect, handle, deliver or present raw materials and processed goods. It includes items such as boxes, pallets, labels, containers, tubes, bags and sacks, as well as tape and materials for wrapping, binding and tying.
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;
- Leases or hires out packaging (such as pallets);
- Imports packaging, packaging materials or packaged goods into the UK;
- Brings transit packaging into the UK that will end up in the UK waste here.
Comply with packaging waste obligations
You can comply with your obligations in one of two ways:
- Register individually as a business with the Environment Agency and make your own arrangements to comply with your legal obligations to recover and recycle packaging waste;
- Pay to join a registered compliance scheme which will carry out your obligations for you and reduce your administrative burden.
if your turnover is between £2 million and £5 million you can use the allocation method. With this method, your obligations are based on turnover alone, so you don't have to keep packaging records.
Even if you do not have to comply with packaging waste obligations, you can help protect the environment and reduce costs by using packaging sustain ably.
Comply with packaging design and use requirements
The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2003 set out obligations for UK businesses that manufacture, use and import packaging. They apply to your business if you:
- Design, specify or produce packaging;
- Pack or fill packaging to sell;
- Claim to have packed or filled packaging by putting your business name on the packaging;
- Import packaging.
Packaging is anything used to contain, protect, handle, deliver and present goods, including non-returnable items
The regulations apply to all packaging, and require you to:
- Minimise the amount of packaging you use. Packaging volume and weight must be the minimum required to ensure safety, hygiene and acceptance for the packed product and for the consumer;
- Make sure packaging can be recovered;
- Make sure packaging has a minimal environmental impact after it is disposed of;
- Ensure packaging does not contain high levels of noxious or hazardous substances;
- Make sure the amount of heavy metals (cadmium, mercury, lead and hexavalent chromium, or; any combination of these), does not exceed 100 parts per million by weight;
- For at least four years, keep evidence that your packaging complies with the Packaging Essential Requirements Regulations. You need to be able to supply these details within 28 days, if requested.
There are some exceptions to the rules, including packaging used before 1995 and packaging made from lead-crystal glass. In certain circumstances, glass packaging may have higher levels of heavy metals. Additionally, in certain circumstances, some types of plastic pallets and plastic crates can contain higher levels of heavy metals than set in the regulations until March 2009.
The regulations are enforced by local authority trading standards and you may be asked to demonstrate that you comply with the requirements. The European Committee for Normalisation (CEN) has developed a set of standards to help businesses comply with the essential requirements. Using the standards is not the only way of demonstrating conformity, but it is the safest way as it reverses the burden of proof.
Additional requirements may apply if you use specialist packaging, such as food contact packaging or medical packaging. You should seek advice from your supplier, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) or the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Comply with requirements on the packaging of chemicals
The Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations (CHIP) apply if you supply dangerous chemicals. Examples of suppliers include manufacturers, importers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers.
The aim of the CHIP Regulations is to ensure that dangerous chemicals do not harm human health or the environment. The rules require suppliers to carry out a number of tasks:
- Classify the chemical by identifying its potential hazards. Classification is an essential first step towards packaging and supplying the chemical safely;
- Provide information about the chemical's hazards to customers, usually on a label fixed to the package. If the chemical is for use at work, a safety data sheet should also be provided;
- Package the chemical safely. The package should be constructed so that contents cannot escape, and be made from materials that cannot be damaged by the contents. The fastenings should be strong enough not to loosen and any replaceable fastening - such as a cap or lid - must be strong enough to be opened and closed often without allowing the contents to escape.
Some chemicals, such as cosmetics and medicines, are outside the scope of CHIP and have their own specific laws.
Minimise the use of product packaging
Keeping product packaging to a minimum is one of the most important ways that your business can cut costs, improve efficiency and reduce its impact on the environment.
Your choice of materials is important as some types of packaging use non-renewable materials, and others can release harmful emissions during their manufacture. Used packaging that cannot be recycled is likely to go into landfill and creates litter when not disposed of properly.
Minimising the amount of packaging in your business saves you money on materials, transport and storage and lowers the cost of complying with legislation. Using a new or alternative packaging solution can also reduce other costs.
Many businesses do not calculate their packaging-related costs, regarding them as an unavoidable overhead. However, the combined costs of producing, transporting, storing and disposing of packaging can be significant. It may also be affecting the efficiency of your business.
Reducing packaging can also boost your reputation, contribute to making your product different and provide a new marketing angle for your product, particularly as consumers have become more environmentally aware.
The main ways in which you can reduce product packaging are:
- Removing intermediate layers of packaging: Some layers, such as inner bags inside cartons or shrink-wrapping, may not be necessary.You may be able to replace labels by printing directly onto boxes.You may also be able to avoid using glue or adhesives by using containers with interlocking tabs. Products sold in blister packs or cardboard sleeves could be sold in smaller or more innovative packs, or unpackaged and labelled directly;
- Minimising production loss. Redesigning packaging can help reduce the amount of material lost or wasted during its manufacture. Failing that, waste should be recycled where possible;
- Modifying volume. Redesigned packaging could use more sales units per box, larger portions, bulk or even loose;
- Light weighting and downsizing. New and improved forms of materials (such as glass and plastics), or optimised designs, can allow for packaging layers to be made thinner without reducing their effectiveness;
- Choosing alternative or recycled materials. You may be able to use one of the many "green" alternatives to non-recyclable materials;
- Reducing void space and fillers. Many products are packed with empty space inside the package, or with materials such as expanded polystyrene blocks or bubble-wrap used as fillers.
Use products with less packaging
Choosing products with less packaging can lead to similar benefits to minimising the use of product packaging. As well as saving on legal compliance, transport, storage and waste disposal costs, your business can reduce its environmental impact and may enhance its reputation too.
Following the simple steps below can help you reduce packaging on the products your business uses.
Look at the goods you receive at your premises:
- Could any of them be supplied with less packaging, reusable packaging or with no packaging at all?
- What packaging (if any) is required while the goods are being stored on site?
- Have your packaging needs changed since the packaging design was first specified?
- Are you still buying in the most appropriate volume to your needs? If you are buying more now, you could take advantage of larger packs which may be cheaper and have a lower packaging-to-weight ratio;
- Consider all the relevant types of packaging - primary, secondary and transit. A saving in one may require more in another, but reveal greater material and cost savings.
Please note that the information provided on this page:
- Does not provide a complete or authoritative statement of the law;
- Does not constitute legal advice by Net Lawman;
- Does not create a contractual relationship;
- Does not form part of any other advice, whether paid or free.
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