Since 1997, businesses have been obliged to recover and recycle packaging and packaging materials under the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations.

The Regulations are not straightforward and many companies have found themselves unwittingly caught. Western Wines has the unfortunate honour of receiving the highest fine following prosecution for nine packaging offences. It was fined £225,000 in January this year and ordered to pay £2486 compensation to the Environment Agency and £3230 in costs. The Regulations require: 

  • Registration with the Agency before 7 April AND 
  • Recover and recycle specified amounts of packaging waste per year AND 
  • Certify compliance by filing a certificate confirming that recovery and recycling obligations have been met.

The cut off point for some obligations was back in April. As with previous years, the Agency will start to carry out checks to see whether companies are compliant and prosecute those who are not. The Agency operates almost “zero tolerance” to non-compliance. Companies who have innocently breached the Regulations may find themselves on the wrong end of Court proceedings.

Generally businesses may fall within the Regulations if they: 

  • Handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging or packaging materials per year AND 
  • Which have a turnover of over £2 million per year

The greatest risk to the hospitality sector is because they tend to sell packaged goods to the user or consumer who then discards the packaging. Special provisions do apply to licensors and pub operating businesses.

Many businesses choose to fulfil their obligations by joining an approved compliance scheme. There are currently 21 such schemes which will discharge the relevant obligations.

The consequences of non-compliance are: 

  • A maximum fine of £5000 per offence in the Magistrates’ Court or an unlimited fine in the Crown Court. 
  • A Compensation Order. 
  • Costs

Because of the three main obligations outlined above, companies may find themselves facing three prosecutions each year – for failing to register, for failing to meet their recycling obligations and for failing to file a certificate of compliance.

Businesses evidently save money by non-compliance.  Each obligation has a cost attached. The Courts are encouraged to take a view that companies should not benefit from non-compliance – even though noncompliance may have been entirely innocent.

Doing nothing is rarely an option. Directors or managers of a company which contravenes the legislation may find themselves prosecuted as individuals for consenting to or turning a blind eye to the corporate offence being committed.

There is no legal obligation to advise the Agency that a company may have committed an offence, However, credit is often give to companies who have voluntarily “help up their hands”, both in terms of the number of offences being prosecuted and / or a reduction in sentence.