Unusually, the consultation period is just three weeks, thereby enabling the changes to be made before the Easter parliamentary recess and expected general election - and in time to make a difference for 2005.
Businesses or compliance schemes obligated under the packaging regime must acquire packaging waste recovery notes (PRNs) or their export equivalent (PERNs) to demonstrate that they have paid for the recycling and recovery of packaging waste. Reprocessors or exporters wishing to issue PRNs or PERNs must be accredited by the Environment Agency, SEPA or Northern Ireland Environment and Heritage Service.
Accreditation and the PRN/PERN system were placed on a statutory footing when the packaging regulations were amended in 2003. The changes, which took effect on 1 January 2004, also required reprocessors and exporters to apply for Agency accreditation by 30 September in the year before the obligation year in which they wished to issue the compliance evidence.
However, it soon became clear that the UK would have to continue through 2005 with only those reprocessors and exporters that managed to meet the deadline, and that no new businesses starting up in 2005 could be accredited for this year. Similarly, accredited exporters could not add new overseas reprocessors to their accreditation.
This, says DEFRA, could limit the ability of obligated businesses and compliance schemes to meet their 2005 recycling and recovery targets, and perhaps make it more difficult for the UK to meet the packaging Directive's targets for 2008.
Furthermore, it would be difficult to prosecute any obligated business or scheme for failing to meet its targets as it could argue that it had taken "reasonable steps" to buy PRNs, as required by the regulations, but the lack of reprocessors and exporters had made compliance impossible.
Although DEFRA believes there is sufficient reprocessing and export capacity to meet the targets for 2005, some businesses could close down during the year.
The amendments would remove the 30 September deadline and allow reprocessors and exporters to apply for accreditation - and exporters to amend their list of foreign reprocessors - at any time throughout the year. The Agencies would waive their fee in 2005, but charge in the usual way from 2006.
The consultation paper applies to the packaging regulations for England and Wales. Parallel regulations for Scotland and. Northern Ireland will follow.
Other potential changes to the accreditation process will be included in a consultation due in March.