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Composition and use of packaging

03 May 2023


The legal requirement to reduce, re-use, recover and recycle packaging, and what evidence you need in order to demonstrate compliance.

Although the United Kingdom has left the European Union (EU), certain pieces of legislation (formally known as 'retained EU law') will still apply until such time as they are replaced by new UK legislation; this means that you will still see references to EU regulations in our guidance.

This guidance is for England, Scotland and Wales

The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2015 are concerned with environmental impacts from packaging and packaging waste. Businesses (including manufacturers, packers, fillers and retailers) that make or use packaging or its raw materials are required by law to ensure that a certain percentage of the packaging that is placed on the market is recoverable and recycled. The Regulations also require packaging to comply with concentration limits for heavy metals.

Packaging must satisfy certain 'essential requirements' relating to its size, design and manufacture. Responsibility for compliance lies with the person who places the packaging or packaging components on the market for the first time. This includes anyone who puts their name, mark or trade mark on the package; it also includes the importer.


The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2015 define packaging as "all products made of any materials of any nature to be used for the containment, protection, handling, delivery and presentation of goods". This includes everything "from raw materials to processed goods" and includes packaging at any stage of a product's journey, not just that which is received by a consumer.

Types of packaging:

  • sales packaging or primary packaging. This is the packaging used to constitute a final sales unit when the product is presented to the consumer or end user - for example, a plastic bottle containing shampoo, a plastic or paper wrapper around bread or a coat hanger sold with a garment
  • grouped packaging or secondary packaging. This is packaging that presents products in groups at the point of purchase and can be removed from the final product without affecting its characteristics. This could include a cardboard presentation stand holding individual cosmetic items for the consumer to select
  • transport packaging or tertiary packaging. This is packaging conceived to facilitate the transport of a number of sales items or grouped packages in order to prevent physical transport or handling damage. This could include plastic shrink wrap, wooden pallets, polystyrene beads or bubble wrap, but does not include road, rail, air or ship containers

Further inclusions under the definition of 'packaging':

  • items that perform a secondary function may also be considered packaging when supplied with the product - for example, clothes hangers and match boxes. However, if the item is an integral part of a product and it is necessary to contain, support or preserve that product throughout its lifetime and all elements are intended to be used, consumed or disposed of together - for example, tea bags, the wax around cheese or a printer ink cartridge - then this would not be considered packaging. Certain items sold separately, such as clothes hangers, would not be considered packaging on their own
  • items designed or intended to be filled at point of sale, including disposable items for this purpose - for example, plastic carrier bags
  • packaging components or ancillary items integrated into packaging or hung directly on or attached to a product that perform a packaging function - for example, a label or ribbon. Components that are designed to be an integral part of that product and all elements that are intended to be consumed or disposed of together are not considered packaging


The concentration limits apply to lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium. The sum of the concentration level of these metals in the packaging, or in packaging components, must not exceed 100 parts per million (subject to certain exemptions).


The essential requirements are aimed at minimising packaging weight and volume, and reducing packaging waste in line with the product's safety, hygiene and consumer acceptance.

Packaging is taken to satisfy the essential requirements if it satisfies the national standards that have been deemed to comply with the essential requirements or that implement the relevant designated standards* (BS EN 13427: Packaging. Requirements for the use of European Standards in the field of packaging and packaging waste and related standards), or where no designated standard exists, if it complies with recognised quality standards.

[*'Designated standards' are those approved by the Secretary of State and published by the British Standards Institution (BSI).]

A summary of the essential requirements is given below.


The following requirements must be satisfied:

  • packaging must be manufactured so that the packaging volume and weight is limited to the minimum adequate amount to maintain the necessary level of safety, hygiene and acceptance for the packed product and for the consumer
  • packaging must be designed, produced and sold in such a way to permit reuse or recovery (including recycling) and that packaging waste (packaging that is not reused or recovered) has a minimal impact on the environment
  • packaging must be manufactured so that, when it is incinerated or sent to landfill, the presence of noxious and other hazardous substances in emissions, ash or leachate is minimised


All of the following requirements must also be satisfied.

Requirements specific to reusable packaging:

  • packaging should be designed so that it can be reused several times under normal conditions of use
  • processing for reuse must meet health and safety requirements for the workforce
  • when it reaches the end of its useful life, the packaging must meet one of the recoverability requirements listed below

Requirements specific to the recoverable nature of packaging:

  • packaging recoverable in the form of recycling. A certain percentage of weight of the packaging materials must be recyclable, according to published standards in retained EU law, which in this case means Article 6 of Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste (see link in 'Key legislation' below)
  • packaging recoverable in the form of energy recovery. Packaging waste processed to produce energy must have a minimum calorific value
  • packaging recoverable in the form of composting. Packaging waste processed for the purpose of composting must be so biodegradable that it does not adversely affect the composting process or collection of compost
  • biodegradable packaging. Biodegradable packaging waste must ultimately decompose into mainly carbon dioxide, biomass and water


The person who places the packaging or packaging components on the market is responsible, including anyone who puts their name, mark or trade mark on the package, or the importer. The person also has a duty to maintain technical documentation to show that the packaging complies with the essential requirements and heavy metal concentration limits. The documentation must be kept for four years and be produced to the enforcement authority (Trading Standards) within 28 days of a request.

Particular care should be taken when considering 'consumer acceptance' of over-packaging. If it could be argued that consumers are buying goods despite the excessive packaging then you may not be complying with the Regulations.

Special rules apply if you currently handle 50 tonnes or more of packaging a year and you have a turnover of £2 million or more. These rules are referred to as the 'producer responsibilities'.

Since February 2023 (in England and Scotland), producers of packaging are required to collect and report data on the amount and type of packaging that they place on the market. This information is necessary to calculate the charges that producers need to remit in order to finance the management of packaging materials; this is part of the forthcoming extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging initiative, which is set to start in 2024. EPR has an impact on various business entities within the packaging supply chain, including importers, distributors and online platforms. Further information on producer responsibilities can be found on the GOV.UK website.

These producer responsibilities have now been extended to include businesses handling more than 25 tonnes of packaging a year with a turnover of more than £1 million. These businesses are required to collect data but not report.


Guidance notes on the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2015 were produced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (a predecessor of the Department for Business and Trade).


For more information on the work of Trading Standards services - and the possible consequences of not abiding by the law - please see 'Trading Standards: powers, enforcement and penalties'.


Additional information on Packaging Waste (Data Reporting) Regulations 2023 for England and Scotland.

Last reviewed / updated: May 2023

Key legislation

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on changes to legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab.

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