HL Deb 02 February 1995 vol 560 cc124-6WA
Lord Gainford

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What considerations they propose to bear in mind in formulating an approach to legislation to increase the recovery and recycling of packaging waste.

Viscount Ullswater

Clauses 76–78 of the Environment Bill, which is currently before Parliament, empower the Secretary of State, subject to certain conditions, to make regulations placing on particular industry sectors, a producer responsibility obligation in relation to the waste which arises from their products (and the packaging around them). Individual companies may choose to discharge the obligation by acting alone or by joining an "exemption scheme" which will organise recovery and recycling operations on their behalf.

The Government propose to legislate using these powers to provide a framework for an industry-led approach to increase the recovery and recycling of packaging waste. This is in response to requests from industry to overcome the potential problem of "free-riders " who might seek to avoid their share of the responsibility to act. The legislative framework will serve to deliver our recovery and recycling obligations under the EC Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste. It will build on the work of the former Producer Responsibility Group and the VALPAK Working Representative Advisory Group, which has now been formed with the backing of some 50 major companies.

The proposed powers are wide in scope and allow a variety of different approaches to suit the circumstances of different waste streams, should legislation be necessary or appropriate. In reaching a conclusion on the best approach for packaging waste, we propose to bear in mind the following considerations:

  1. (i) the need to be confident that the available options can ensure that the targets set by the packaging directive will be met;
  2. (ii) the practicality, cost effectiveness, potential benefits, as against the likely costs (taking account of environmental and economic considerations) and fairness of the available options;
  3. (iii) the desirability of minimising regulatory burdens on business;
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  5. (iv) the desirability of business choice in the manner in which the obligation is satisfied (both in terms of the provision of an individual compliance route which is reasonable and practicable, and the potential for multiple exemption schemes to co-exist);
  6. (v) the compatibility of the available options with existing EC and domestic law—for example, to ensure that they do not create a barrier to trade with other member states in the Community;
  7. (vi) the need to take account of competition policy—for example, to ensure that the regulations do not have the effect of distorting competition unnecessarily;
  8. (vii) the desirability of business freedom and flexibility to control and administer collaborative schemes run on its behalf and of minimising the role of the public sector agencies, compatible with effective enforcement;
  9. (viii) the desirability of targeting as closely as possible those responsible for determining the content, nature and amount of packaging used for a particular product.

In drawing up the statutory obligation for individual businesses, consistent with these considerations, the main issues concern the coverage and nature of the obligation. On the coverage of the obligation, there are options encompassing all those businesses who are involved in some way with packaging or packaged products; or a narrower obligation, perhaps on those who make use of packaging for products which they manufacture or control; or some combination of the two. In reaching a view, we will take into account market characteristics, the nature of the recovery and recycling operations, and evidence of the willingness of different business sectors to work together, as well as the need to minimise the extent of the legislative burden placed on industry. In the event that the regulations were found not to work there would, however, be scope for changing the obligation.

The second main issue concerns the nature of the legal obligation. Value from packaging waste is recovered in a variety of ways. Detailed involvement by an enforcement agency in monitoring a large number of processes for those businesses involved in packaging would require significant resources and is likely to prove expensive for the businesses concerned. We will therefore seek to define the producer responsibility obligation in a simple and straightforward way which:

  1. (a) is intended to achieve our obligations under the packaging directive;
  2. (b) allows wide discretion to industry as to how to respond;
  3. (c) is amenable to external auditing. The scope for independent certification is an important objective in minimising the burdens of the regulatory approach.

Officials from the Department of the Environment and the Department of Trade and Industry are continuing discussions with a wide range of interested parties in the packaging industry. Once we have formulated a set of proposals, we will bring forward a consultation paper on these issues.