Appearing before Ormskirk magistrates on 18 September, the company was fined £5,000 for each of five offences, the maximum in a magistrates court, together with £1,775 costs. The offences are prescribed under the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997.
The court heard that the company, which supplies own-brand snacks to supermarkets and has a £35 million turnover, saved an estimated £25,500 by failing to register with the Agency or a compliance scheme during 1998 and 1999, or to take reasonable steps to arrange for the recycling or recovery of any packaging waste until August 2000.
The Snack Factory claimed to have registered in 1997 but said that a change in managerial responsibilities soon afterwards led to a mix-up and the issue being forgotten. However, the Agency believes that, as a supplier to major supermarkets, it must have known about the regulations, and the company admitted it had received requests from supermarkets for packaging data.
In January 2000, the company contacted the Agency and asked for help in complying with the regulations, and was told that the registration deadline was 7 April. But in October the Agency's central producer responsibility unit told local officers that the firm had not registered until August.
Officers then looked back at the company's record in previous years and discovered that it had failed to register or fulfil its other obligations in 1998 and 1999.
Businesses and compliance schemes are concerned that enforcement has been weak and fines too low, with the average last year being £2,000 (ENDS Report 317, pp 15-18 ). But the situation may be changing - the previous highest fine of £14,000, was imposed in August (ENDS Report 319, p 56 ).
After receiving guidance from the Timber Trade Federation, a company director contacted the Agency on 5 April - two days before the registration deadline - to enquire about registering for 2001. It became apparent that the firm should have registered in the three previous years.