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What Small and Medium Sized Businesses Need to Know About Packaging Regulations in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a crucial role in the economy, contributing significantly to employment, innovation, and growth. As these businesses navigate their operational and production processes, understanding and adhering to packaging regulations is essential. This article outlines the key regulatory frameworks and considerations that SMEs must be aware of to ensure compliance and promote sustainability.

Overview of Packaging Regulations

The primary legislation governing packaging in the UK is the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations, which is complemented by the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations. These laws are designed to reduce the impact of packaging waste on the environment and encourage businesses to adopt more sustainable practices.

The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations set out criteria that all packaging must meet before it is placed on the market. These include:

Minimisation: Packaging volume and weight must be the minimum necessary to maintain the necessary level of safety, hygiene, and acceptance for the packed product and for the consumer.
Reusability and Recoverability: Packaging must be manufactured so as to permit its reuse or recovery in accordance with specific requirements, including recycling, energy recovery, composting, and biodegradation.
Noxious or Hazardous Substances: Packaging manufacturing and composition must not involve the use of noxious or hazardous substances in quantities harmful to the environment or human health.

Producer Responsibility Obligations

Under the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations, businesses that handle packaging materials are required to ensure that a proportion of the packaging they produce, use, or sell is recovered and recycled. This applies to companies with a turnover of more than £2 million that handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging material per annum. Affected businesses must register either with the relevant agency or through a compliance scheme and work to achieve specific targets for the recovery and recycling of packaging waste. It is important to obtain evidence of compliance, usually in the form of Packaging Waste Recovery Notes (PRNs) or Packaging Waste Export Recovery Notes (PERNs).
For SMEs, the implications of these regulations can be significant. Compliance requires not only an understanding of the legal requirements but also a commitment to sustainability and efficient packaging practices. This may involve redesigning packaging to reduce materials used, selecting recyclable materials, and potentially incurring additional costs for compliance and recovery schemes.

Compliance Strategies

To navigate these regulations effectively, SMEs should consider the following strategies:

Assessment: Evaluate the amount and types of packaging used and determine regulatory obligations.
Reduction and Design: Where possible, reduce packaging and design for recyclability or reuse, focusing on materials that have less environmental impact.
Compliance Schemes: For those required to comply with the Producer Responsibility Obligations, joining a compliance scheme can simplify the process of meeting recovery and recycling obligations.
Documentation and Records: Maintain accurate records of packaging data, contracts with compliance schemes, and evidence of recovery and recycling.

Here at Kempner, we can help our customers find shrinkwrap film options that can make life a lot easier for SMEs when it comes to compliance. We can also save customers time and money by advising them on the most economical and efficient packaging options to reduce additional costs and taxes.

The Plastic Packaging Tax

Plastic Packaging Tax in the UK, which is a significant regulatory measure affecting businesses, including SMEs, involved in the production or importation of plastic packaging. Introduced in April 2022, this tax is designed to encourage the use of recycled material in plastic packaging, supporting the government’s environmental objectives and the broader strategy to reduce plastic waste.

The Plastic Packaging Tax applies to plastic packaging produced in or imported into the UK that contains less than 30% recycled plastic. The tax aims to incentivise the use of recycled plastic in packaging production, thereby reducing the reliance on new plastic and promoting recycling. As of its introduction, the tax is levied at a rate of £200 per tonne on plastic packaging that does not meet the minimum recycled content threshold.

Who is Affected by the Plastic Packaging Tax

The tax affects manufacturers and importers of plastic packaging, including those who import packaging which already contains goods (such as plastic-wrapped products). Businesses that manufacture or import more than 10 tonnes of plastic packaging over a 12-month period are required to register for the tax, irrespective of the recycled content.

Compliance Requirements

Affected businesses must register with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) if they meet the threshold for manufacturing or importing plastic packaging. They must also keep records of the amount and type of plastic packaging they produce or import, including the recycled content. From there, it is vital to report and pay the tax to HMRC according to the reporting periods and requirements set out by the tax regulations.

For small and medium-sized businesses, the Plastic Packaging Tax introduces additional considerations for packaging choices and supply chain management. It encourages the evaluation of packaging materials and the potential shift towards alternatives with higher recycled content to avoid the tax. This shift may involve reassessing packaging designs, suppliers, and production processes to meet the recycled content threshold while balancing cost implications.


Understanding and complying with packaging regulations is essential for SMEs in the United Kingdom, not only to meet legal obligations but also to contribute to environmental sustainability. By adopting strategic approaches to packaging use and waste management, businesses can ensure compliance, minimise environmental impact, and potentially realise cost savings and efficiencies in their operations. As regulations evolve, staying informed and proactive will be key to navigating the complexities of packaging compliance.

As a longstanding presence in the shrinkwrap industry, we are well placed to help customers navigate the complexities of packaging regulations in the UK. Please get in touch with us if you are exploring packaging options and would like to know more about shrinkwrap machinery and shrinkwrap film options.