Packaging and packaging waste management

Packaging design and use - your environmental responsibilities


Your business must comply with the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations if you:

  • produce packaged goods
  • design, specify or produce packaging
  • pack or fill packaging to sell
  • claim to have packed or filled packaging by putting your brand or trademark on the packaging
  • import packaging or filled packaging

The regulations aim to minimise the amount of waste packaging created and ensure that packaging can be reused, recovered or recycled. They are enforced by the Department for the Economy (DfE). They apply to all packaging.

Packaging design requirements

Minimise the volume and weight of packaging you use. The amount of packaging must be the minimum required to ensure the safety and hygiene of the packed product and to be acceptable to the consumer.

Make sure packaging has a minimal environmental impact after it is disposed of.

You must ensure packaging does not contain high levels of noxious or hazardous substances. Make sure the amount of heavy metals (cadmium, mercury, lead and hexavalent chromium, or any combination of these) does not exceed 100 parts per million by weight. These limits apply to packaging plus any packaging components, calculated as a whole unit. For example, components such as lids do not have to meet these limits independently. There are a few exemptions from the limits - see packaging design and use - exemptions from the regulations.

Make sure your packaging can be reused or recovered through recycling, energy recovery or composting.

Packaging design for reuse and recovery

Packaging you intend to be recovered by recycling must be manufactured so that a percentage (by weight) of the material can be recycled. The percentage varies according to the type of material and the current British standards.

Packaging you intend to be recovered by energy recovery must be processed to allow for the maximum amount of energy to be recovered. This means that if you burn any packaging waste, it must produce more energy than is used by the incineration process.

Packaging should contain at least 50 per cent of combustible organic materials by weight. Combustible organic materials include paper, wood, cardboard and other organic fibres.

Packaging intended for recovery by composting must be biodegradable so it doesn't slow down the composting process. To be biodegradable the packaging must decompose into carbon dioxide, biomass and water.

Reusable packaging must be capable of being used several times. Once at the end of its useful life, it must also meet the requirements for recycling, energy recovery or composting.

The best way to demonstrate you comply with the packaging design requirements is to follow the European Standards on designing packaging.

Keep records of packaging

Keep evidence that your packaging complies with the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations for at least four years from the date the packaging was first placed on the market. You need to be able to supply these details within 28 days, if requested.

How you hold this information is up to you. You may need to keep a variety of document types to ensure you have evidence for all of the requirements.

You could keep records of:

  • existing technical documents on the design and use of your packaging
  • existing quality assurance documents
  • environmental management systems and auditing documents
  • documents relating to other packaging standards

Specialist packaging requirements

Additional requirements may apply if you produce or use specialist packaging, such as food contact packaging or medical packaging - read guidance on medical product packaging.