Product packaging materials are subject to various regulations and standards in the United Kingdom, applicable both to packaging materials as a category – and product packaging for consumer products. As such, packaging materials regulations are relevant to importers, manufacturers, distributors, and other businesses trading physical products.
In this guide, we cover The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations, UK REACH, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), and other compliance requirements for packaging materials..
Note that this article does not cover packaging material regulations in Northern Ireland.
What is a packaging material?
A packaging material refers to most materials used to hold, protect, handle, deliver, and in the presentation of goods, and includes packaging for raw materials right through to finished goods to be sold or being sold.
Examples of packaging material include:
- Paperboard boxes
- Flexible plastic packaging
The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations
The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2015 ensure that products meet necessary levels of safety, can be reused or recovered, and minimises the products’ noxious or hazardous substances released from incineration or landfill.
All in all, the regulations encourage importers and manufacturers to consider the environmental impact of their packaging system.
The regulations cover most packaging products where they are:
a. Sales packaging or primary packaging
b. Grouped packaging or tertiary packaging
c. Transport packaging or tertiary packaging
Additionally, items that meet the criteria set out in section 3(3) of the regulations are considered to be packaging:
a. The item meets the above definition of packaging material and is not an integral part of the product. However, if the packaging is necessary for the product throughout its lifetime and all elements are meant to be used together, then it is not considered to be packaging.
b. The item is designed and intended to be filled at the point of sale and includes disposable products sold, filled or designed and intended to be filled at the point of sale. Such items should fulfil a packaging function.
c. The Item components and ancillary elements are integrated into packaging, and ancillary elements are hung directly on, or attached to, a product and such items perform a packaging function. However, like point a., if the product serves as an integral part of that product and all elements are intended to be consumed or disposed of together, then such items are not considered to be packaging.
The following are some packaging products covered by the regulations:
- Sweet boxes
- Clothes hangers (sold with a clothing product)
- Paper or plastic carrier bags (used at the point of sale)
- Cling film (used at the point of sale)
- Labels hung directly on or attached to the product
- Items forming part of the packaging like staples and plastic sleeves
The regulations set essential requirements for importers and manufacturers when placing packaging materials in the UK, including ensuring that such products do not exceed heavy metal concentration limits.
For example, concentration levels of the following heavy metals or a combination of such metals in most packaging or packaging components should not exceed 100ppm by weight:
- Hexavalent chromium
The essential requirements are found in Schedule 1 of the legislation. It contains specific requirements that relate to:
- The manufacturing and composition of packaging
- Reusable packaging
- The recoverable nature of packaging
Examples of said specific requirements include:
a. Manufacturing the packaging product in a manner that the volume and weight are limited to the minimum adequate amounts to maintain necessary levels of safety, hygiene and acceptance for the packed product and the consumer
b. Designing, producing and commercializing the packaging product to permit its reuse or recovery
c. Manufacturing in a manner that minimizes the presence of noxious and hazardous substances when such packaging products are incinerated or landfilled
The importer or manufacturer should keep technical documentation or other information showing that the packaging products comply with the essential requirements and the regulated metals concentration limits for four years after placing the packaging product on the market.
The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations
The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007 aims to reduce packaging waste in landfills by ensuring that certain businesses that produce or use packaging make a financial contribution towards the cost of recycling and recovery.
It affects the following types of businesses or activities:
a. Raw material manufacturer
b. Package converter (converting raw materials into packaging)
c. Packer or filler
e. Importer (of packaged goods or packaging materials, including raw materials that will become packaging)
f. service provider (e.g. a business that supplies packaging by lending it)
The regulations apply to the following recyclable materials:
This includes packaging materials composed of a combination of said recyclable materials.
Packaging producers that perform one of the abovementioned business activities are obliged to make a financial contribution if they handled 50 tonnes of packaging materials or packaging in the previous calendar year, and have a turnover of over GBP 2 million a year (based on the previous financial year’s accounts).
Such obligated packaging producers are required to do the following every year:
a. Register as a packaging producer on the 7th of April
b. Meet their recycling obligation
c. Acquire evidence of compliance
d. Submit a certificate of compliance (CoC) by the 31st of January the subsequent year
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
In 2023/2024, the UK is expected to introduce new legislation further extending the obligation of producers of packaging placed in the market. The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) will reform the existing producer waste regulations and will result in numerous changes, including:
a. Increased financial incentive to use packaging that can be recycled
b. Collection and reporting of data concerning packaging type and recyclability would be reported every 6 months
c. Increased complexity in data reporting requirements
d. Increased costs for frequent use of hard or costly to recycle packaging materials through the introduction of modulated fees
e. Obligation of EPR registration for packaging online service
f. Pay a fee to the environmental regulator
The UK Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulations aim to regulate the use of chemicals and heavy metals in products, including packaging products. It promotes different methods of assessment of possibly hazardous substances.
The regulations cover most chemical substances in their standalone form, in mixtures, and in their form as consumer products.
Here are some consumer products that would fall under the regulations:
- Plastic packaging (e.g. Blister packaging)
- Paperboard packaging (e.g. Watch gift boxes)
- Wood (e.g. Jewelry boxes)
- Steel (e.g. Food storage containers)
Here are some examples of restricted substances that may be found in packaging products:
- Bisphenol A
- Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP)
- Lead and its compounds
- Mercury compounds
Additionally, there are notification requirements for products, like packaging, containing substances from the Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) candidate list provided that the following conditions hold true:
a. Produced articles containing such substances are in quantities totalling over 1 tonne annually per importer or manufacturer
b. The article contains more than a concentration of 0.1% w/w or more of said substance
The requirements are similar to those under the EU REACH. If the above two statements hold true, then the producer must notify the Health and Safety Executive Agency through the Comply with UK REACH service.
SHVCs are substances that can be one of the following:
a. Carcinogenic, Mutagenic or toxic to reproduction (CMR)
b. Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) or very Persistent and very Bioaccumulative (vPvB)
c. Identified as causing probable serious effects to human health or the environment of an equivalent level of concern as those in points above
Wood Packaging Materials: The Official Controls (Plant Health and Genetically Modified Organisms) (England) Regulations
The Plant Health and Genetically Modified Organisms Regulations 2019 prohibit the introduction of wood packaging material (WPM) whether or not in use in the transport of objects of any kind unless it fulfils the specified requirements or is subject to the exemptions provided for ISPM 15.
Producing ISPM15-compliant packaging requires signing up with the UK Wood Packaging Material Marking Programme (UKWPMMP) as a member and having your facility undergo 6-monthly assessments. Additionally, you should also register with the Forestry Commission in your capacity as a professional operator to apply for ISPM15 marking.
The following are some examples of wood packaging materials:
- Cable drums
WPM must be made of debarked wood. Any number of clearly distinct small pieces of bark may remain provided that such pieces are one of the following:
a. Less than 3 cm wide (of any length)
b. Greater than 3 cm wide but with a total surface area of less than 50 square cm
Debarked WPM, including dunnage, should either be heat treated or fumigated
To be compliant with ISPM 15, the WPM needs to be officially marked with the ISPM 15 stamp consisting of three codes (country code, producer code and the approved measure) and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) logo.
Food Packaging: Food Contact Materials Regulations
Special requirements apply for packaging that are food contact materials (FCM). The Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 amended the Materials and Articles in Contact with Food Regulations 2012 (National Regulations 2012) and retained EU legislation relating to FCM.
As a result, the following EU regulations should be observed when considering importing or manufacturing packaging FCM:
a. Regulation 1935/2004 (References the EU’s FCM framework regulation)
b. Regulation 1895/2005 (Epoxy derivatives used on FCM)
c. Regulation 2023/2006 (On good manufacturing practices for FCMs)
d. Regulation 282/2008 (Recycled plastic materials)
e. Regulation 450/2009 (Active and intelligent materials)
f. Regulation 10/2011 (Plastic materials and articles)
g. Regulation 2018/213 (On the use of bisphenol A in varnishes and coatings intended to come into contact with food)
h. Directive 84/500EEC (Ceramic articles)
i. Directive 2007/42/EC (Regenerated cellulose film)
The National Regulations 2012 and its retained EU regulations cover most FCMs including:
- Electronic kitchen appliances
- Stainless steel bottles
Here are some limits, restrictions and regulatory requirements on covered substances from the above-mentioned regulations:
a. The quantities of lead and cadmium transferred from ceramic articles found in cooking ware. packaging and storage vessels having a capacity of more than three litres must not exceed 1,5 mg/l and 0,1 mg/l respectively
b. The use and/or presence of BFDGE and NOGE in manufactured materials and articles are prohibited
c. Plastic materials and articles must not transfer their constituents to food stimulants in amounts exceeding 10 milligrams of total constituents released per dm2 of food contact surface (mg/dm2). If infants and young children are expected to be the recipients, then it must transfer in amounts exceeding 60 milligrams of the total of constituents released per kg of food simulant
The following is a summary of some of the requirements under these regulations:
a. A Declaration of Compliance (DoC) must be provided by importers or manufacturers of certain FCM (e.g. plastic or ceramic FCM)
b. Adequate labelling and a traceability system must be established for FCMs
c. FCM products should be labelled “for food contact” unless it is obvious that it is intended to come into contact with food
Different products may require different compliance marks (like UKCA and CE marks) and meet other labelling requirements as per the applicable product regulation(s). In many cases, such marks and other labelling information would be placed on the packaging of the product.
Additionally, there may be marks and labels that are used on a voluntary basis. The following sections highlight some common marks and labels that may appear on packaging materials.
There are a few recycling symbols that may appear on the packaging of products that may be done so voluntarily. These symbols may simply communicate that the product should be recycled and others communicate more information about the handling of the product or its packaging.
On-Pack Recycling Labels
Members of the On-Pack Recycling Labels use recycling labels that communicate whether the product or packaging in question is likely to be collected for recycling or can be taken to a recycling centre.
Plastic Resin Codes
This symbol communicates to the consumer the type of plastic resin used in the packaging. These symbols apply not only to plastic products but also to products made of plastic resin
Forest Steward Council Logo
This symbol identifies wood-based products and packaging. The tick-tree symbol can commonly be found on paper, wood or cardboard products
This symbol identifies products that can be recycled, and contain a percentile figure that indicates how much of the product is made up of recycled material
The symbol comes from the ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ initiative and communicates to the end user to refrain from littering and serves as a reminder to dispose of the used product in a proper manner
This symbol communicates to the end user that the product is made out of recyclable aluminium
On 1 January 2021, the UKCA mark was introduced as a requirement for products placed in the UK market. The UKCA mark serves the same function as the CE mark in the sense that it communicates to the consumer that the product is compliant with the relevant regulations affecting it.
The UKCA mark can be placed on the product, its packaging or accompanying documents like the user manual. The mark must be affixed on its packaging where the mark cannot be visibly and legibly affixed on the product.
The CE mark can still be used on most products to be placed in the UK market. However, after 1 January 2023, importers and manufacturers can not use the mark to communicate conformity with UK regulations. If a producer were to place a product in both the UK and various EU states, the product should have both the UKCA mark and the CE mark.
The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2013 (WEEE) regulate most EEE products in the UK. The legislative aim is to decrease the amount of waste sent to landfills or for incineration.
To achieve this end, the legislation requires importers and manufacturers to affix the symbol of the crossed-out wheeled bin to their products to communicate to end users that they should not discard the EEE product in unsorted waste.
Food Contact Materials Symbol
The Materials and Articles in Contact with Food Regulations 2012 ensure that food contact materials are suitable for food use. Such products that comply with the regulations should bear the wine glass and fork symbol.
However, you do not need the label if it is obvious that the product is a food contact material. For this reason, you don’t need this symbol in case you are manufacturing or importing food contact materials used in daily life, such as cutlery, drinking glasses, and common kitchen appliances.
Packaging Materials Lab Testing
As certain packaging products are affected by regulations that may impose substance restrictions amongst other requirements, lab testing is often needed.
Packaging Waste Regulations testing
Lab testing is not explicitly mentioned in the legislation. However, according to the legislation, the importer or manufacturer must comply with the essential requirements and observe the concentration limits for certain metals in packaging metals. Thus, to ensure compliance lab testing is recommended.
Here are some laboratories offering lab testing services:
- SGS UK
- Butterworth Laboratories
- TÜV SÜD
UK REACH testing
REACH lab testing is necessary to determine whether a product or material is compliant with the legislation. The lab test is only passed if not a single restricted or banned substance is above the limits.
Here are some laboratories offering UK REACH lab testing services:
- Dekra UK
- TÜV SÜD
Food Contact Materials Regulations testing
FCM lab testing requires an evaluation of FCM products to ensure compliance with FCM regulations. Testing with regards to substance migrations, heavy metal levels, composition and material identification, and PCP content to name a few should be done.
Here are some laboratories offering FCM lab testing services:
- Northern Testhouse (Leicester)
- TÜV SÜD