Valpak's packaging pyramid reveals reality

By Lindsey Partos

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Recycling

Pinning consumer perceptions of packaging into a schematic pyramid reveals that while Easter eggs are perceived as 'big contributors' to the UK waste stream, they actually account for a tiny percentage of all packaging used in the UK.

Devised by the UK's packaging waste compliance firm Valpak, the packaging pyramid shows how certain products perceived as feeding large volumes into the waste stream actually make small contributions due to their seasonal nature.

"Consumers see the issue of waste by volume and type of material, whereas manufacturers see it by weight and the functionality of the packaging,"​ explained Duncan Simpson, director of marketing and sales at Valpak.

For example, while about 100 million Easter eggs are sold every year in the UK, and are protected by about 8,000 tonnes of packaging, they actually make up under 0.3 per cent of all packaging used in the UK.

"Our pyramid aims to provide comparable information and data when communicating to the consumer,"​ Simpson told

Eighteen months in the making, the pyramidic tool provides a clear visual of the weight of packaging for 73 product categories, ranging from books to soup, and cereals to electrical accessories. The categories are grouped by approximate frequency of purchase.

"We've been collecting waste data for over ten years,"​ said Simpson on the information Valpak used to create their pyramid.

Waste compliance rules and Valpak

Valpak started life in 1997 in parallel with new waste compliance rules for UK companies, ushered into the marketplace following the European Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive of 1994.

The legislation, Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) regulations 2007, is designed to reduce the amount of packaging that goes into landfill. Revised in 2004 the rules have now set even more challenging and differentiating, recycling targets for all packaging materials.

Valpak's role is to achieve the waste targets set annually, and today looks after 3.7 million tonnes of waste recycled in the UK. According to Simpson, about 50 per cent of all packaging that entered the markeplace in 2008 was recovered and recycled.

The Packaging Waste Recovery Note (PRN) system

UK packaging rules use the Packaging Waste Recovery Note (PRN) system that helps companies to pay for the recovery and recycling of an equivalent amount of packaging and so offset their obligation.

PRNs are certificates issued by reprocessors - accredited by environmental agencies - when packaging waste is recycled or recovered.

These PRNs are put onto the open market to be purchased by obligated companies, as evidence that they have met their calculated obligation. Businesses can join compliance schemes, such as Valapk, who buy PRNs on their behalf.

Cash received by the re-processors for the certificates is then injected back into the recycling system through improvements in equipment, processes et al.