Producer responsibility

Producer responsibility legislation is based upon an extension of the “polluter pays” principle. It places the responsibility for dealing with the environmental impact of products on the shoulders of the company who produces the goods, by imposing a strict regulatory regime on the “producer”. 

There are a number of different products covered by this type of legislation including packaging materials, electrical products, and batteries. The regulations are complex and it can be very difficult for companies to determine whether they apply to them. For example, in the case of packaging, the regulations do not just apply to those companies who manufacture packaging, but also to any company that imports, sells or pack-fills packaged goods.

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The Producer Responsibility Obligations Regulations 

The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 have now been in force for almost 20 years, but they were poorly publicised by DEFRA and the Environment Agency. As a result many reputable companies have unwittingly found themselves in breach of the regulations and facing the daunting prospect of prosecution by the Environment Agency. 

The regulations apply to any company or group of companies with a turnover exceeding £2m who handled over 50 tonnes of packaging in the last calendar year. Packaging “handled” includes packaging materials on any products that a company imports or sells, and is not limited to packaging that the company applies to goods. Even where a company is aware of the regulations, this common misconception often results in non-compliance.
 
More companies have been prosecuted for breach of the producer responsibility regulations than environmental crime such as water pollution or waste offences. Fines imposed are based on the costs avoided by the company for every year that it has failed to comply. For companies who have unknowingly been in breach for many years this can result in very large fines.  

Whilst the agency has recently started to use civil penalties (enforcement undertakings) instead of prosecution, companies need expert guidance to understand the extent of their non-compliance and negotiate the terms of such an undertaking. These are a legal agreements, with significant consequences for non-compliance, so are best drafted by a specialist environmental lawyer. 

If you think your company may be obligated under producer responsibility legislation contact our team of experts for advice on 0203 816 9274. We have vast experience of dealing with such cases and have represented many high profile companies in court proceedings and enforcement undertakings. 

We will advise you whether your company is obligated, and if so, assist you in taking the necessary steps to become compliant. We work closely with a number of compliance schemes who will be able to achieve compliance. We can then apply on your behalf to the Environment Agency for an enforcement undertaking. This will address the earlier years’ of non-compliance and resolve the matter without prosecution, and with the minimum cost and adverse publicity.

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