A guide to UK environmental packaging regulations

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Packaging and the environment often go hand in hand these days. It’s important that we minimise our impact on the planet, and packaging plays a key role in that. How it’s designed, used and what happens at the end of its life will all drive the overall environmental impact.

To manage the impact packaging has on the environment, the UK Government has begun delivering a program of packaging legislation reform. These changes are key in the Government’s strategy to tackle climate change and build a more circular economy that supports delivery of the 25 Year Environmental Plan.

So, what are key environmental packaging regulations that you need to be aware of? Here, we’ll provide a whistlestop tour of key legislations that may impact you if you use packaging.

UK environmental packaging regulations

UK environmental packaging regulations to be aware of

There are currently three key packaging-related environmental legislation schemes to be aware of:

  • The Plastic Packaging Tax
  • The Extended Producer Responsibility scheme
  • The Deposit Return Scheme

What is the UK Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT)?  

The UK Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT) is a tax on plastic packaging that was introduced by the UK government to reduce the amount of plastic waste produced and came into effect on 1 April 2022.  It applies to plastic packaging that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic.

The rate of the tax increased on 1 April 2023 to £210.82 per metric ton of packaging that does not meet the minimum recycled content threshold. This means that companies that produce or import plastic packaging must pay the tax, which is intended to encourage the use of recycled plastic and reduce the amount of plastic waste sent to landfill or incineration.  From 1st April 2024, the tax will be applied at £217.85 per tonne.

The revenue generated from the tax is set to be used to support initiatives that will reduce plastic waste and improve recycling infrastructure in the UK.

You can find more resources about the Plastic Packaging Tax here.

What is the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme?  

The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme is a policy approach that makes producers responsible for the environmental impact of their products throughout their entire life cycle, from production to disposal. The goal of the EPR scheme is to shift the cost of recycling and waste disposal from local authorities to producers and retailers, incentivising businesses to design packaging that uses less material and are easier to recycle or dispose of.

The scheme is designed to properly fund Local Authority for the full cost of recycling services and is strongly linked to other regulation that the Government intend to bring forward to increase the quality and consistency of recycling across the UK.

EPR schemes are being implemented in many European countries, but each country has set their own parameter of regulations.   

The UK EPR scheme will be implemented in the UK during 2023, with fees commencing during 2024. If you would like to find out more about the scheme or how Macfarlane can help your business reduce future EPR costs, look at our EPR landing page, which details information about the scheme and access to our FAQs.

What is the Deposit Return Scheme?

For those of us old enough to remember buying “pop” in the 70’s, the Deposit Return Scheme will bring back memories of collecting up bottles to cash in at the local shop.  

With the Scottish’s Governments recent decision to delay their scheme, it is now expected that a UK wide scheme will go live in 2025. This will apply a charge to single use drinks containers which will be refunded on return to retailers.   The UK Government are hoping to reduce the number of bottles and cans discarded as litter by 85%.

UK environmental packaging regulations

What other environmental regulations should I be aware of?

While it isn’t a UK regulation, if you are a business that has a foothold in Continental Europe, it is also worth being aware of the new EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive.

The EU legislation wants all large companies to publish regular reports on their environmental and social impact, and packaging can play a role in this. You can read more about the CSRD in our article here.

Furthermore, for all businesses with significant operations in Europe, the EU is currently bringing forward additional legislation known as the Waste Packaging Regulations. It’s highly ambitious and seeks to set new regulatory requirements including, waste reduction, limitations on packaging empty void space and setting targets around reusable packaging in certain sectors. This legislation is currently expected to come in to force for EU member states during 2025.

Support with sustainable packaging and carbon emission reduction

If you need support making your packaging more sustainable and future proofing your business against future regulations, we have the expertise to help you. Tools like our Packaging Optimiser can help you make informed decisions about what your packaging is costing you and the environment, and model how solutions can remove CO2e from your packing operation. Contact us to learn more.