Reform to regulations relating to packaging

15 May 2018

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove, recently invited WRAP, along with INCPEN (Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment) and Defra’s Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP) to facilitate a series of cross-sector discussions to inform how the UK could respond to and reduce the environmental impact of the way we use and dispose of plastic.

For the last two months, we have been engaged in a comprehensive programme of discussions with stakeholders from across the UK packaging supply chain, culminating in a summit on April 16 2018 to share the findings and agree on a set of recommendations for packaging regulatory reform to be sent to the Secretary of State.

Below you will find a copy of those recommendations, along with the Secretary of State’s response in the related links.

23 April 2018

Dear Secretary of State,

Reform to regulations relating to packaging.

In the last six weeks WRAP, INCPEN (Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment) and Defra’s Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP) have consulted with a wide range of stakeholders to discuss how packaging regulatory reform could help to reduce the environmental damage caused by the way we use and dispose of packaging, especially plastic packaging. We held six workshops, each with a particular sector, and then brought everyone together to share our findings at a summit on packaging producer responsibility last week.

We are scheduled to meet with you at 1715 tomorrow (24th April) to discuss our recommendations for how you could reform the UK’s regulations relating to packaging. In advance of that meeting, we have outlined our key recommendations below and given more detail in Annex 1.  These broadly represent the desire of the whole packaging value chain. In total, we consulted with over 160 organisations and a list is included in Annex 2.  A full set of notes from the workshops will be provided to Defra officials.

Everyone involved in the packaging value chain – from producers to local authorities and recyclers ‐ has been keen to input. Businesses have been clear that they are willing to pay more into a packaging producer responsibility system to ensure that it is adequately funded and works effectively. This was on the proviso that money raised by the system is used to solve problems within it.  It was also on the proviso that we must recognise the vital role that packaging plays in protecting and preserving the product it contains, particularly with regard to food. While the discussions centred on reform to packaging producer responsibility regulations, it was clear that wider policy measures will be needed which should be considered at the same time as comprehensive package.

All those we spoke to agreed that producers should be strongly encouraged to design packaging to be more recyclable. This will require agreement on what ‘good’ looks like through an Approved List defining what is and what is not deemed to be recyclable.  This is important as some materials may be theoretically recyclable but not practically or economically so. We recommend that modulated fees, linked to the Approved List, that are high enough to drive change are used to penalise non‐recyclability.

This will also allow packaging to be clearly and consistently labelled for consumers as recyclable or not recyclable. We know that people are confused by the current myriad of recycling systems; consistent collections and clear labelling will make it much easier for them to do the right thing. We need to make it easier for people whether at home, at work or on‐the‐go to recycle a core set of materials and be confident that the materials they recycle will not be burned, buried or end up in the oceans.

We recommend that local authorities are required to collect a core set of materials for recycling from householders. For plastic packaging this will need to include bottles, pots, tubs, trays and film. Funding for this could be provided (from extended producer responsibility) for local authorities that meet a minimum service standard (taking into account rurality and demographics).  In the shorter‐term, this could be moved forward by asking the Environment Agency to ensure that local authorities and business waste providers comply with existing regulations on separate collections.

People will still need motivating to use their recycling services and consistent, proven communications can help to make recycling the norm. It was widely agreed that extended producer responsibility must also cover the cost of local and national communications. However, there is scope to use the current packaging regulations to require better consumer information now. The current Consumer Information Obligation requires producers to provide information on how to dispose of packaging. Under your current powers, you could amend this obligation to require producers to do more to encourage consumers to recycle. Local authorities we spoke to were also keen, as a back‐stop measure, to be able to require their residents to recycle effectively (if all other measures fail to nudge the behaviour change needed).  You could grant this by amending section 46 of the Environment Protection Act.

The potential for contamination in exported materials, especially plastics, to damage the environment and pollute the oceans was a particular concern. There was widespread agreement that more rigorous control is needed of materials that are exported. This would require stronger compliance monitoring and enforcement by the Environment Agency. The cost of this could be met by higher accreditation fees for recyclers and exporters. This would require HM Treasury to allow the Environment Agency to use compliance fees to fund enforcement activity.

Much of WRAP’s work to increase recycling has been about creating markets for secondary materials. Markets are critical for the system to work effectively and to ensure that collected materials are recycled. Creating demand for recycled plastics could be driven quickly through public procurement – setting recycled content requirements for purchased goods. The Government could also consider other complementary fiscal measures such as virgin material taxes or tax relief on recycled plastics. The role of business is very important here too and initiatives like the UK Plastics Pact will help to drive markets through commitments to higher recycled content in plastic packaging.

Finally, to make all this work, we recommend establishing an independent arbiter, whose role would include developing and maintaining the Approved List of recyclable materials as well as agreeing how to distribute the funds that are raised.

We look forward to discussing all this with you on 24th April.

Kind regards,


Marcus Gover, CEO WRAP, Paul Vanston, CEO INCPEN, Phil Conran, Chair ACP


Annex 1 ‐ Findings and Industry Recommendations on Reform to Regulations Relating to Packaging

Workshops were held for each of the following key groups: brands and retailers, local authorities, waste management companies, reprocessors, compliance schemes and SMEs. A final summit meeting was also held involving all those invited to the workshops, plus NGOs, devolved administrations and other government departments to present findings and seek consensus. The discussions centred on potential reform to producer responsibility although it quickly became clear that in order to help people do the right thing, wider policy needed to be considered as well as action taken by business to help deliver more rapidly. The following recommendations have come out of this consultation exercise and represent the key measures that industry believes should be taken forward for further consideration.

Underpinning principles

It was universally agreed that there is a need for radical change to the existing producer responsibility regime. This change needs to be cohesive with other policy instruments and consistent across the UK with greater transparency and accountability. It needs more effective compliance monitoring and enforcement with money raised by the system to be used for the system. The most important thing that came across is an overwhelming support to make it easier for people to do the right thing. Throughout the workshops there was support for an independent body that had an overarching remit across the five themes below. The role of the independent body would be to consult and then signal to the market what constitutes responsible packaging design and ensure that funds raised through the system are spent in the system in the most optimal way possible – making it easier for people to do the right thing.

Better packaging design

  • As overall resource efficiency is challenging to adequately capture and incentivise there was agreement that recyclability is the right parameter to promote in packaging design.
  • There was clear support for rewarding recyclability and penalising non‐recyclability through modulated fees. These fees could, for example be directed at certain non‐recyclable materials to encourage businesses to do the right thing.
  • Brands and retailers told us that they require guidance on the best packaging choices to ensure that what they put on the market can be recycled when it reaches end‐of‐life.
  • Our recommendation is that the supply chain should be encouraged to use an ‘Approved List’ of packaging. This would need to be developed by an independent organisation based on evidence and ensuring that there were no unintended consequences for other actors in the supply chain.
  • For plastics, recycling data will need to be collected by polymer to support the use of modulated fees.
  • We recommend stronger enforcement of Essential Requirements regulations.
  • Wholesalers and on‐line sellers are often not being captured under the system and a quick win may be to tighten the regulations around this.
  • Higher re‐melt targets for glass is potentially a quick win.
  • Together these measures should drive packaging innovation here in the UK and more widely.

Making it easier for people, whether at home, at work and on‐the‐go

  • Industry supports a mandatory national labelling scheme of packaging stating what is and is not recyclable (against an ‘Approved List’ as designated by an independent organisation).
  • Producers could be required to fund national communications campaigns including behavioural change for on‐the‐go recycling and for local authorities to invest in improved local communications. This could be through extended producer responsibility, but in the short‐term by reviewing requirements of Consumer Information Obligation under existing regulations.
  • The role of education is also important. We believe there is more that can be done to educate the younger generation, in schools and elsewhere to create a generational change in behaviour so essential for long term sustainability.

Higher quality, consistent collections:

  • There was support for collections of recovered materials to be at a consistently high standard.
  • Consistency of material collection at the household, commercial and on‐the‐go need to be considered while taking into account differing levels of cost and performance associated with rurality and demographics.
  • Our recommendation is that local authorities should be required to meet a minimum, consistent collection service ‐ the cost of which should be funded by producers in accordance with extended producer responsibility.
  • Materials consistency, combined with incentives to improve will result in significant economies of scale ensuring that collections are as cost efficient as possible. Potential measures outside of the producer responsibility system include requiring all business to present (separate) their waste for recycling.

High quality feedstock for reprocessing:

  • There was considerable support from industry to ensure that the recovered materials that we export (in particular plastics) are of a high standard and do not pollute the oceans.
  • Our main recommendation is that there should be tighter compliance monitoring and enforcement of existing export regulation, with the costs covered through accreditation charges. Allowing the Environment Agency (EA) to use funds raised from compliance for enforcement, giving greater direction on how civil sanctions can be used and strengthening waste export tracking are potential short‐term measures.
  • We propose a split target for plastics recycling – UK vs export (aiming for a higher proportion of recycling taking place in the UK).
  • To support higher recycling we would like to see all reprocessors to be accredited (this could be achieved in part by utilising the existing waste permitting system).
  • Together these measures may help to level the playing field between UK and overseas reprocessors and will also help drive more investment into UK recycling capacity. But ensuring a consistent, reliable supply of high quality materials can only go so far in encouraging manufacturers to use it.

Markets with strong demand for recycled content

  • Industry told us that more needs to be done to help on the demand side, ‘pulling’ recovered materials into use in packaging and other products. Recycled content was felt to be an important area for plastic given that packaging is its largest market.
  • It was agreed that it is very difficult to measure and incorporate recycled content under the current packaging regulations.
  • There may be a case for fiscal disincentives for virgin materials that would help stimulate demand for recovered materials.
  • We believe that there is more that Government can do to help develop markets for more recovered materials and show leadership. Our recommendation is that the UK Government increases its green procurement, specifying recycled content in the products it uses.

Annex 2 ‐ List of organisations engaged in the process by WRAP, INCPEN and ACP

Ace UK





Ardagh Packaging


Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry

Association of Convenience Stores

Ball Beverage Packaging

Beer & Pub


Biffa Polymers


BPIF Cartons

British Drinks Association

British Frozen Food Federation

British Glass

British Hospitality Association

British Plastics Federation

British Retail Consortium

British Soft Drinks

British Toy and Hobby Association


Bucks County Council


Campaign to Protect Rural England


Choice Packaging Solutions Limited


Clean Tech

Coca Cola European Partners

Comply Direct

Comply with Clarity


Confederation of Paper Industries

Co‐op CRN UK

Crown Group

Cycle Link

Danish Crown Danone

Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy

Department for Communities & Local Government

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland

Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs


Dover District Council

DS Smith

Eco Veritas


Ella's Kitchen

Environment Agency

Environmental Services Association

ERP Recycling


Euro Key Recycling


Faerch Plast UK Ltd

FCC Environment

Food and Drink Federation

Foodservice Packaging Federation

Glass Recycle

Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority

Green Alliance


Hampshire County Council

Highland Spring

HM Treasury





Keep Britain Tidy

Keep Scotland Beautiful

Kent Resource Partnership

Kite Environmental Solutions




Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC)

Local Government Association

London Borough of Newham

London Waste and Recycling Board

LRS Suntory (Lucozade Ribena)

Marks and Spencer


Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association

MKD32 Ltd

Müller UK & Ireland

National Association of Cider Makers

National Association of Waste Disposal Officers

National Infrastructure Commission

Natural Resources Wales



Nipak Ltd

North London Waste Authority

Northern Ireland Environment Agency




On Pack Recycling Labelling (OPRL)

Packaging Federation


PAGB medicines




Philip Tyler Polymers


Premier Foods

Pret a Manger

Procter & Gamble


Provision Trade Association

Recap (Cambs)



Recycling Association

Recycling Technologies

Red Bull

Regen Waste


Resource Association

Resource London

Richmond and Wandsworth Councils




Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Scottish Government


Shanks (Renewi)

Smart Comply (EA)



Surfers Against Sewerage

Surrey Waste Partnership

Synergy Compliance

Tata Steel

Tech UK



The Environment Exchange




URM Group


Vanden Recycling






Welsh Government

West Sussex County Council


Wood Panel Industries Federation

Wood Recyclers Association



Zero Waste Scotland