UK Packaging Waste and Producer Responsibility

Bitesize webinar

Do you need help understanding UK Packaging Waste Regulations and Producer Responsibility?

Listen to our short and simple 20-minute webinar on Packaging Waste Regulations in the UK. Kerry Hammick, one of our experienced consultants, will talk you through: 

  • what the Packaging Waste Regulations are and how they work​;
  • who is obligated by them​;
  • what is required by the Regulations​; and
  • key definitions.

Common Definitions

Packaging: Any material used to hold, protect, handle, deliver and present goods. This includes packaging for raw materials right through to finished goods to be sold or being sold, e.g. pallets, boxes, bags, tape for wrapping, rolls, tubes, and clothes hangers sold as part of a clothing item.

Handling: Means you do all the following:

  • carry out one or more of the activities in the activity list / have these activities carried out on your behalf;
  • own the packaging on which the activities are carried out; and
  • supply packaging / packaging materials at any stage in the chain or to the final user of the packaging.

Activity list:

  1. Raw material manufacture: produce raw materials for packaging manufacture
  2. Packaging conversion: convert raw materials into packaging
  3. Packing / filling: put goods into packaging / put packaging around goods
  4. Selling: supply packaged goods to the end user
  5. Importing: import packaged goods / packaging materials from outside the UK – this includes raw materials that will become packaging, e.g. plastic pellets used to make bottles
  6. Service provider: a business that supplies packaging by hiring it out or lending it

Packaging producer: Any business that performs an activity on or uses packaging.

Obligated packaging producer: A business or organisation which produces or uses packaging, or sells packaged goods, that has duties under The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007, as amended.


What legislation covers producer responsibility and packaging waste in the United Kingdom?

The following legislation covers producer responsibility and packaging waste in England, Scotland and Wales:

The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007, as amended

Similar legislation covers producer responsibility and packaging waste in Northern Ireland:

The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007, as amended

The legislation places various obligations on packaging producers which aims to:

  • reduce the amount of packaging produced;
  • reduce how much packaging waste goes to landfill; and
  • increase the amount of packaging waste that’s recycled and recovered.

How do The Producer Responsibility (Packaging Waste) Regulations work?

The Regulations work on the principle of shared producer responsibility. The idea is that all businesses that produce or use packaging should contribute towards the cost of its recycling and recovery.

Any business that qualifies under the Regulations must meet recycling targets, which are annual figures relating to the type and weight of packaging used and or produced. A set of targets are applied, which determines the amount in tonnes that a business has responsibility for. Businesses must commit to recycling or recovering an equal volume of the specific material(s) that they are responsible for under their obligation. They must provide evidence of this recycling/recovery in the form of Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs), which can be purchased from accredited recycling companies that reprocess the specific materials handled by businesses.

Which businesses are affected by the Regulations?

If your business has duties under the Regulations, you are known as an ‘obligated packaging producer’. You’re an obligated packaging producer if you, or the group of companies you’re part of:

  • handled 50 tonnes of packaging materials or packaging in the previous calendar year; AND
  • have a turnover of more than £2 million a year.

What is a packaging producer compliance scheme (PCS)?

A packaging producer compliance scheme (PCS) is an accredited company that manages the packaging waste compliance obligations for businesses on their behalf. The compliance scheme operator takes on the legal liabilities for all the schemes’ members – registration, data submission, obtaining evidence of compliance, etc. A PCS must be approved by the relevant environmental regulator and charges a fee for taking on packaging producer responsibilities. A list of approved PCSs can be found on the public register.

What is a small packaging producer?

You’re classed as a small producer if you have a turnover:

  • between £2 million and £5 million; or
  • of less than £2 million but you are part of a company group that has an obligation.

It is possible to register a group as a small producer if the group of companies has a combined turnover under £5 million.  It costs less to register as a small packaging producer with the regulator or a compliance scheme.

What do I need to do if I am an obligated packaging producer?

Every year an obligated packaging producer must:

  • register as a packaging producer by 7th April;
  • meet their recovery and recycling obligation;
  • obtain evidence of compliance and
  • submit a certificate of compliance (CoC) to the appropriate regulator by 31st January the following year.

How do I register as a packaging producer?

You must register / be registered with the relevant regulator by 7th April each year. The relevant environmental regulators in the UK to register with are:

  • England: Environment Agency
  • Wales: Natural Resources Wales
  • Scotland: Scottish Environment Protection Agency
  • Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland Environment Agency

Businesses can register themselves using the National Waste Packaging Database (NWPD), or join an approved packaging compliance scheme which will register your business for you.

Register yourself

If you choose to register yourself, you must do so with the environmental regulator where your registered head office / main place of business is based. To get access to the NPWD you need to complete and return an authorised signatory form and pay the relevant fee. Contact your environmental regulator to get a form and to pay the registration charge (it is not possible to pay online, payment is required by cheque, BACS or credit or debit card). Once returned and accepted, the NPWD will issue a login and you can log into the system and complete the registration form. If you’ve registered before, your information is copied into your new registration. You’ll need to check it and make any necessary amendments.

To submit a registration, you must be an ‘approved person’. This is a:

  • director or company secretary;
  • company partner; or
  • sole trader.

It is possible to delegate your function to another person; if you wish to do so you will need to complete a ‘delegation of approved / appropriate person form’ which is available from your regulator.

Register with a compliance scheme

It is also possible to join an approved compliance scheme and pay a fee for them to manage your packaging waste responsibilities. The operator of the scheme will take on most of the legal responsibilities for your business (and for all the schemes’ members) and will register you with the regulator, submit data on your behalf, and obtain evidence of compliance. However, it is important that businesses still supply accurate data to the scheme about their packaging usage so that the correct obligation can be calculated.

Under the Regulations, producers are not defined as registered members of a PCS unless they have paid membership and supplied accurate data.

What are PRNs?

PRNs are Packaging Recovery Notes, also referred to as ePRNs (electronic Packaging Recovery Notes). They provide evidence of recycling/recovery of certain materials. Packaging Export Recovery Notes (PERNs) are the same thing but used if exporting packaging material.

Obligated packaging producers must obtain evidence of waste packaging recycling and recovery equivalent to the weight of their obligation.  A material recycler/reprocessor is accredited by the regulator to sell PRNs to the producer (or compliance scheme) and the PRNs are then proof that this tonnage of recycling/recovery has been performed. Accredited reprocessors can be found on the public register.

A reprocessor can only sell PRNs for the amount of material it recovers or recycles. Therefore, the cost of PRNs isn’t fixed; it can rise or fall depending upon the perceived supply and demand of materials.

How do I work out my packaging recovery and recycling obligation?

To calculate your recovery and recycling obligations for the next year, you must assess:

  • the amount and type of packaging your business handled and supplied in the last calendar year; and
  • how you handled this packaging – manufacturing, packing, filling, importing, etc.

It is important that all the packaging that your business owns, and handles is included, not just packaging waste that you produce.

How producer obligation is calculated

The amount of packaging waste to be recovered by a producer is calculated in relation to which type of producer  you are, using the calculation in Schedule 2 of The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007:

P x C x X = Z

“P” = the amount in tonnes to the nearest tonne of packaging and packaging materials handled in Great Britain by the producer in the preceding year.

“C” = the percentage prescribed in paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 in relation to the class of producer.

“X” = the percentage prescribed in paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 as the recovery target for the relevant year.

“Z” = the amount, by tonnage of packaging waste, which is to be recovered within the relevant year.

Small producers’ obligations

If your business is classed as a small producer, then there are two options for calculating your obligation:

  • the ‘allocation method’ – the obligation is calculated by multiplying turnover in £million to the nearest £10,000 by 30 tonnes; or
  • the obligation is based on the weight of packaging handled in the previous year, using the calculation in Schedule 2 of the Regulations as above.

Help with working out your obligation

If you self-register as a packaging producer, the NPWD will calculate your obligation for you, based on the information you enter. The same is applicable if you belong to a compliance scheme; the scheme operator will input the data on your behalf and the NPWD will calculate your obligation.

Alternatively, there are various companies that offer online calculators that will work out your obligation. These can be found by using a search engine and entering the term ‘packaging obligation calculator’.

How do I comply with the Packaging Waste Regulations?

Once registered you must meet your obligations by the deadlines set. If you have joined a compliance scheme it will do this for you, provided you give the scheme the correct information and accurate data.


You must get evidence of waste packaging recycling and recovery equivalent to the weight of your obligation from accredited reprocessors and exporters in the form of electronic packaging recovery notes (ePRNs) and/or and electronic packaging export recovery notes(ePERNs). They (or yourself if you are accredited) can issue ePRNs and ePERNs for the waste packaging they recycle or recover which act as evidence notes. These are paid for by the producer, in line with producer responsibility, and by the end of the compliance year must cover the full amount a producer is obligated by.

If you recover and recycle packaging waste that your own business handled or provided, you must still obtain an ePRN or ePERN from accredited reprocessors and exporters.

The NPWD cannot be used to pay for evidence notes. However, it does record and track ePRN / ePERNs credited to your account and shows the remaining balance of your obligation against the current evidence notes purchased.

Small producers must obtain ePRNs for the main packaging material handled.

Submit a Certificate of Compliance (CoC)

To demonstrate that a business has met its producer obligation, it must submit a CoC to the regulator. The deadline for submission is 31st January immediately following the end of the calendar compliance year.

The NPWD generates CoCs for directly registered producers which will say whether your obligation has been met or not. To comply fully, the authorised person must check that the information on the certificate is correct and log in to the NPWD to sign it off and submit it.

Members of compliance schemes should receive a copy of their CoC from the compliance scheme operator. If you do not receive one, then you should request a copy.

Consumer information obligations

The Regulations place duties on certain packaging producers to provide specific information to consumers. If your main activity is selling packaged goods, you must give your customers information about:

  • the return, collection and recovery systems they can use;
  • their role in reusing, recovering and recycling packaging and packaging waste;
  • the meaning of recovery and recycling symbols on packaging; and
  • how to get copies of waste strategy guidance.

Details on how you will ensure this information is provided to consumers must be uploaded onto the NWPD or provided to your compliance scheme operator.

If you are a small producer and chose the allocation method to work out your obligation, then you must upload proof of turnover or audited accounts to the NWPD.

What will happen if I fail to meet my legal obligations?

If you fail to meet your legal obligations or provide false or misleading information, you may face prosecution. In England and Wales, there are also civil penalties. These include:

  • fixed penalty fines for minor offences;
  • higher fines for more serious offences; and
  • an enforcement undertaking (an offer provided to the regulator which is formally accepted that rectifies the impact of your non-compliance).