During 2009, two British companies were hit with fines in excess of £200,000 for failing to meet their obligations with respect to their management of packaging and packaging waste. The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2003 and the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007 (as well as their amendments), implement in the United Kingdom the EC Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (94/62/EC). This Directive applies to all packaging materials used in the EU, wherever it has originated. These ‘Essential Requirements’ have been adopted into national legislation in each EU member state.
The Essential Requirements are:
- Packaging volume and weight must be the minimum amount to maintain necessary levels of safety, hygiene and acceptance for the packed product and for the consumer
- Packaging must be manufactured so as to permit reuse or recovery in accordance with specific requirements
- Emissions of noxious or hazardous substances in packaging must be minimised after disposal, including landfill leachate and ash from incineration
- The sum of the concentration levels of cadmium, mercury, lead and hexavalent chromium should not exceed 100 parts per million.
The heavy metal limits apply to packaging components that can be separated by hand. Bottle tops would, therefore, be considered as a separate component to the bottle, whereas the paint on a drum would need only to be assessed as part of the total weight of the drum. Testing is not explicitly required, but may be the most appropriate way to demonstrate compliance if detailed supplier data is unavailable.
In the absence of published standards, national guidance (in the UK, this is currently DEFRA document PB11540 – January 2006) defines hazardous substances to mean any substance described as such in national or international law.
The obligation for compliance with these regulations lies with the packer/filler of the packaging or, where this company is outside the European Union, the importer of packed or filled materials. However, where the packaged products are branded or trademarked, the organisation identified with the brand or trademark is deemed to be the packer/filler for the purposes of this Directive.
“Testing is not explicitly required, but may be the most appropriate way to demonstrate compliance if detailed supplier data is unavailable”
In many organisations, pressure from consumers has removed or reduced additional packaging, such as point-of-sale plastic bags, and also many products are now being sold in novel, minimal packaging.
However, when calculating a total packaging burden, all packaging must be considered (including items such as coat hangers for garments), but not where the packaging forms part of the product as it would normally be used. For instance, computer game and DVD boxes are considered an integral part of the product, but any shrink-wrapping would be defined as packaging. In addition, transport packing should be taken into account, including pallets and external shrink-wrapping around cartons.
Recent decisions at a European level have introduced further clarification as to what does and does not constitute packaging. For example, swing tags are explicitly now included as packaging materials. The packaging that is defined within the scope of the Directive is referred to as ‘obligated packaging’.
Where packaging is to be reused (such as transport packaging and refillable bottles), the packaging should be sufficiently robust to withstand a number of supply cycles, as well as complying with the same requirements for end-of-life disposal as single use packaging.
At the end of their life, the materials used in the packaging should be recoverable through one of four routes: material recycling (the preferred option), energy recovery, composting or biodegradation. The required percentage of packaging that is recoverable depends on the type of material that is used (see box 1). Paper and cardboard can be relatively easily recycled, but some plastic materials are not capable of being reprocessed.
|Box 1: Recycling targets set in Directive 2004/12/EC (in force from 2009)|
|60 per cent minimum recovery, of which 55-80 per cent will be recycled.
Specific materials targets:
For a material to be used in energy recovery, it should contain at least 50 per cent of organic material or meet minimum levels for calorific value. Materials which can be composted or biodegraded should not contain substances that would interfere with the biological processes responsible for biodegradation.
Companies that have a turnover in excess of £2 million and handle more than 50 tonnes a year of packaging identified in the Directive need to demonstrate compliance and register as a ‘producer of packaging’. Compliance can be handled either by companies on an individual basis or by joining a scheme, whereby the scheme organisers ensure that the recovery and recycling targets are met for all the obligations of the scheme members’ total packaging. This is often an easier solution for many companies than following their own audit trail for individual items of packaging.
SATRA can carry out assessment of packaging to demonstrate that it meets the Essential Requirements by being fit for purpose and durable. Advice and training on obligations under the European Directives can also be provided.
“At the end of their life, the materials used in the packaging should be recoverable through one of four routes: material recycling (the preferred option), energy recovery, composting or biodegradation”
In determining fitness for purpose, an assessment would be carried out to ascertain what is required in terms of performance. This is based on the content and whether the packaging is to be used at point-of-sale or during transportation. Such an assessment could investigate resistance to environmental conditions, transport vibration and extremes of temperature.
SATRA can also help customers review their packaging and will work to assist companies to introduce novel and reduced packaging products which still meet the market requirements.
In order to demonstrate that packaging does not adversely affect content, the SATRA chemical testing laboratory can offer a range of services, including colour transfer assessment, food contact certification and composition identification, as well as verifying that the packaging is compliant in terms of heavy metals and other hazardous substances.