Environment Agency packaging monitoring plan released

The packaging producer responsibility monitoring plan for 2020 has been released by the Environment Agency, placing a key focus on accurate data submission and operational compliance.

A new corporate report by the Environment Agency lays out the monitoring activity that is to be expected for the year ahead. The plan builds on their 2019 report with the objective of ensuring accurate data is being submitted by packaging producers regarding packaging they handled in 2019. Reprocessors and exporters will also see attention paid to meeting their accreditation conditions.

Download the Packaging producer responsibility monitoring plan 2020.

Risk profiling, site inspections and desk-based compliance assessments

First and foremost, the monitoring process is intended to resolve any issues of non-compliance. Intelligence reporting will identify un-registered producers (freeriders) and risk profiling will focus on operators who have the largest impact on the environment.

The EA have put in place a target of 83 site visits to packaging producers which will be determined through the EA’s risk profiling assessments. This process considers an organisation’s scale and complexity as well as any late registrations, anomalies or errors flagged by validation and data assessments.

The aim? To bolster the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD) and ensure robust data is released in any national publications, eliminating freeriders and ensuring a level playing field for all producers.

For infringements such as data errors and fraudulent behaviour, corrective actions and fines may be issued upon the EA’s validation checks of data submissions, trend analysis and subsequent identification of errors or anomalies. To navigate these potential penalties and reduce the risk of non-compliance, producers can strengthen their quality management systems, particularly those relevant to data gathering procedures, demonstrating that they take data generation more seriously.

Reprocessors and exporters

Both prospective and accredited reprocessors are also subject to monitoring from the Environment Agency. A minimum of 110 site inspections (down 30% from the 2019 target) are to be conducted in order to check compliance with conditions of accreditation and the EA will visit all ‘red and amber’ sites identified through risk profiling assessments. This will occur in tandem with desk-based assessments of quarterly data returns. A combination of improvement plans or enforcement measures (sanctions, suspension or cancelling accreditation) will be implemented to address any failures.

The commodity nature of the PRN market leaves evidence supply susceptible to dynamic pricing should any enforcement action arise. Realistically, accreditation suspensions are often short lived and reinstated quickly, meaning any price spikes should be normalised within a couple of weeks.

Any prolonged change to market conditions would require particularly drastic enforcement measures to be implemented, specifically early in the year and on larger reprocessors, which is highly unlikely for several reasons, namely:

  • Large reprocessors are aware of the conditions of their accreditation and are generally very diligent with their procedures.
  • Enforcement measures are proportionate to conditional infringements, consequently improvement plans and sanctions are more commonly imposed over accreditation cancellations.
  • The network of ‘offline’ reprocessors typically step in to become accredited effectively balancing out market pressures.

Consequently, any concerns packaging producers or authorities may have that enforcement measures may result in economic impacts or an increased risk of certain materials missing EU recycling targets can be quelled. That is not to diminish the importance of the refreshed EA monitoring plan which details clear and legitimate consequences for non-compliance, mis-reporting and falsifying data (be it intentional or not).

Robbie Staniforth, Head of Policy at Ecosurety, commented: “Site inspections play an integral part in ensuring the robust reporting of packaging recycled in the UK. Although a useful indicator, the quantity of audits carried out by the regulator is not necessarily the most important metric. On the whole, the vast majority of reprocessors and exporters have excellent processes and procedures in place to track the volume of waste recycled. When it comes to ensuring the integrity of reporting, using risk profiling to conduct unannounced visits are equally, if not more, important.

“I welcome the regulator taking a risk-based approach, using intelligence to conduct their activities. The 14 new officers starting in February should certainly help them to reach their targets and deliver better overall enforcement of the system.”

Monitoring of compliance schemes

The EA will be monitoring compliance schemes such as Ecosurety on a quarterly basis. This is largely to check progress towards meeting their member’s obligations i.e. procurement patterns for PRNs. The aim? To mitigate risks of missing National and European recovery and recycling targets. 

As a scheme that values quality, Ecosurety conducts its own auditing process to vet evidence suppliers, thus ensuring good supplier partnerships and mitigating the risk of not procuring sufficient evidence. Building strong working relationships with reprocessors and exporters has the benefit of a continued dialogue, facilitates future buying to help them grow and gives producers better price certainty.

What does this mean for producers?

Ultimately, the EA have put real emphasis on data accuracy and will be scrutinising producer data. With a strengthened enforcement team, the EA will have more resources available to implement its monitoring process. In light of this, producers should make concerted efforts to ensure the quality of their data is ‘as accurate as reasonably possible’. Data submissions should be supported by clear and verified source data which can withstand regulator scrutiny.

Collaboration between producers and compliance schemes can improve data assurance practices thereby improving transparency and data quality and reducing the risk of non-compliance. Taking up additional support such as Ecosurety’s data review and pack-weigh services and conducting periodic, robust in-house sampling, will certainly realise improvements of data quality and strengthen a stakeholder’s position when the EA’s monitoring procedures commence later this year.

To find out more about how we can help ensure your data is as accurate as possible, please contact our team.

Fergus Mooney

Data Team Manager

As our Data Team Manager, Fergus leads our data specialists to ensure we meet the growing demand for data management services for both technical and regulatory compliance projects. This includes bespoke project work for our members covering EPR legislation and the Plastic Packaging Tax.

Written by Fergus Mooney Published 20/01/2020 Topics Packaging
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