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Sweet fine for Canderel manufacturer Merisant

Wycombe Magistrates today (12 November) fined Merisant UK Limited a total of £54 000 for failing to comply with its packaging waste recycling obligations between 2001-2006. In addition the court awarded £5154 to the Environment Agency in compensation for unpaid registrations fees as well as costs of £3094.21 bringing the total to £62,248.21.

But for the company's earlier guilty plea, co-operation with the Environment Agency and previous good record the court would have sent the case to the Crown Court for sentencing.

Merisant UK Limited, of Kingsmead Business Park, High Wycombe, pleaded guilty to failing to register with the Environment Agency as a producer of packaging, and to failing to meet its requirements to recover and recycle packaging waste for six years between 2001 and 2006. The company sells low calorie sweeteners, which are imported from their manufacturing bases in Europe, to retailers and wholesalers in the UK, including the famous Canderel – a calorie-free alternative to sugar. They were obligated under the regulations for the packaging they import as well as on the transit packaging around the products sold on to the retailers and wholesalers.

The nature of its business means that Merisant UK Ltd handles a range of packaging, including: glass jars, plastic containers, shrink wrap, cardboard and wooden pallets. The shrink wrap and pallets form the transit packaging sold on to the supermarkets.

Under the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations, all businesses with an annual turnover in excess of £2 million that handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging each year must be registered with the Environment Agency or a recognised compliance scheme. Each year, obligated businesses must also provide evidence of payment for the recovery and recycling of a specified proportion of packaging waste, including wood, glass, aluminium, steel, cardboard and plastic.

The Regulations are designed to ensure companies assess the amount of packaging they use and, where possible, limit their consumption. For the packaging remaining, companies are expected to invest in the recycling industry. Details of the Regulations are available in trade journals, through trade organisations and online but unfortunately many businesses remain unaware of their responsibilities, resulting in packaging waste potentially being landfilled rather than being recycled.

The court heard that the Environment Agency wrote to Merisant on 15 June 2007 as part of its routine monitoring of non-registered companies, asking the company to complete a form enabling the Environment Agency to determine whether or not Merisant was obligated.

The Environment Agency received a reply dated 25 June 2007, stating that Merisant had approached Valpak, a compliance scheme registered with the Environment Agency, with a view to registering with the scheme.

Merisant subsequently registered for Valpak in 2007. The data form submitted to Valpak showed that the company had handled 543 tonnes of packaging in 2006. In light of this information a letter was sent to Merisant, inviting it to attend a formal interview under caution.

Environment officer Karen Roberts said: “As a result of our routine enquiries in this sector we discovered that Merisant UK Limited were obligated and should have been registered with the Environment Agency or an approved scheme from 2001 onwards. Our estimation showed that the company had avoided significant costs by not meeting their recovery and recycling requirements. The money raised from compliance with this legislation goes directly to the recycling industry and the failure by this company to ensure it met its responsibilities means that there was less investment in the recycling industry than there should have been. These Regulations have been in force since 1997 and there is information available to businesses to ensure they meet environmental responsibility. It is important companies take this responsibility seriously to stop the tonnes of packaging piling up in the UK's shrinking landfill sites.”

It was estimated that the company had avoided recycling costs of over £40,000 by not obtaining evidence of the correct amount of packaging recovery notes and over £5000 for not registering with the Environment Agency or an approved scheme for 2001-2006.

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