Credit: Alan Levine
Alan Levine

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has hit out at companies over wasteful excess packaging after it emerged that more than £800,000 was paid out last year by firms who breached regulations.

The EU rules are among those that would be subject to negotiation after the UK leaves the EU.

The analysis by Energydesk revealed that 27 companies in England were sanctioned by the Environment Agency last year, for breaking rules over how much of their packaging waste is recycled.

The companies included a Nestle subsidiary, olive oil producer Filippo Berio and Bahlsen, who make biscuits. The companies donated money to charities in order to avoid legal action.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who campaigned against excess packaging in his War On Waste programme, reacted to the findings saying: “Companies really need to start taking responsibility for the huge quantities of unnecessary packaging they are using – especially unrecyclable plastics.”

“It’s a waste of resources and all too often an environmental menace. Much of it is ending up in our oceans, with devastating effects on the marine environment,” he added.

The UK Packaging Waste Regulations were introduced in 2007 with the aim of reducing the amount of packaging waste going to landfill.

Now businesses that make or use more than 50 tonnes of packaging per year have a legal obligation to ensure that a proportion of what they place on the market is recovered and recycled.

Phil Conran from recycling compliance company 360 Environmental said the sanction system was working well.

“Using civil sanctions has made it easier for people to come into compliance and to encourage them to come forward to get registered. In the old days, when the only enforcement option was prosecution, it put people off putting their head above the parapet. Now they have the opportunity to do the right thing without being prosecuted,” said Conran.

But Fearnley-Whittingstall expressed concern that companies were still being caught out.

“Businesses should be urgently reducing their packaging use and working hard to ensure that which they use is recycled responsibly. The fact that so many companies actually breached regulations last year is a massive concern. They need to be brought to book, and above all they need to change their ways,” he said.

Plastics use has increased twenty-fold in the past half-century and is expected to double again in the next 20 years, according to The New Plastics Economy and Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Earlier this week, it was revealed that just five drinks companies produce a combined total of 2.16 million tonnes of plastic bottles each year  

Companies sanctioned

The 27 companies found to have broken the packaging regulations in 2016 paid out figures ranging from just £1,000 to more than £250,000.

According to Let’s Recycle magazine, Filippo Berio UK had been failing to meet requirements to recover and recycle its packaging since 1997. The company only began proper procedures in 2014.

That led to the company agreeing to pay £253,906 to the Hertfordshire and Middlesex Wildlife Trust.

Bahlsen, who make biscuits, paid out £39,800 for failing to register with the regulations, and for not doing enough to recover and recycle packaging waste.

The news of sanctions comes just weeks after the EU’s Environment Committee declared that the share of waste to be recycled should be raised to 70% by 2030, from 44%, as they amended the draft EU “waste package” legislation.