Packaging waste

More than 10 million tonnes of packaging waste is produced every year in the UK.

Although almost two-thirds of packaging waste is recoverable, a significant amount still ends up in landfill, meaning that continued efforts are required to reduce its environmental impact and allow the Scottish Government to attain its commitment of zero waste in Scotland by 2020.

How is packaging waste regulated?

Packaging waste is regulated by two sets of regulations which extend the principle of ‘the polluter pays’, ensuring that businesses who produce potential waste take responsibility for it at the end of its life.

1. The Producers' Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007  provide the statutory framework by which the UK must meet the minimum recovery and recycling targets contained in the EC Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste.

These regulations place obligations on all UK companies that have a turnover exceeding £2 million and that handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging per annum. 

The amount each business has to recover is determined by three factors:

  • the amount of packaging the business handles;
  • the business recovery and recycling targets for the year;
  • the activity the business carries out on packaging.

In November 2009, the Packaging Waste (Amendment) Regulations 2010 came into force, extending the recovery and materials recycling targets beyond 2010, as well as introducing various other technical changes. Our fact sheet summarises these changes.

2. The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 1998 require that packaging should be minimised, that it be should be capable of recovery and recycling and that it contain restricted amounts of certain hazardous substances.  

Do the regulations apply to me?

Our flowchart will help you establish if the regulations apply to your company.

If the regulations apply to your company, you will need to register with the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD) .

The NPWD is an online database administered by the UK’s environmental regulators and provides the following resources and registrations:

  • on-line accreditation of reprocessors and exporters;
  • issuing of Electronic Packaging Waste Recovery Notes (ePRNs) and Electronic Packaging Waste Export Recovery Notes (ePERNs);
  • on-line submission of quarterly returns by reprocessors and exporters;
  • electronic statements and certificates of compliance;
  • compliance monitoring of producers, schemes, reprocessors and exporters by environmental regulators;
  • free-rider monitoring;
  • public registers and reports.

To offset this recycling obligation, you or your compliance scheme must buy Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs) from an Accredited Reprocessor or Exporter as proof that a certain amount of recycling has been carried out on your behalf.

If you do not have any recycling obligations, you do not need to register as a producer; however we do still encourage you to recycle as much as possible.

What do I do next?

If our flowchart determines that your company has recycling obligations, you must register with the NPWD as a producer, where you will be assigned a recycling obligation for each material that you handle.

Our guidance’s will help you through the registration process, however we strongly recommend that you contact us in the first instance for further help and advice on:

As a registered company, you can choose whether to manage your obligations independently or to join a compliance scheme, which helps producers to fulfill their obligations.

All registered companies and compliance schemes must submit data on packaging handled and ensure that a certain amount of packaging waste is recovered or recycled.

Recovering and recycling packaging waste

Most packaging producers are not in a position to physically recycle their own packaging waste and instead use reprocessor and exporter companies to recover and recycle waste packaging or export waste packaging.

In order to comply with regulations, companies using reprocessor and exporter companies must produce approved evidence of compliance, in the form of electronic Packaging Waste Recovery Notes (ePRNs) and electronic Packaging Waste Export Recovery Notes (ePERNs). These can only be obtained from accredited companies.

A public register of accredited exporters and reprocessors is available to help you locate an operator.

Contact us

For more help, advice or information on any aspect of packaging waste regulations, please contact us.