Businesses which fall under the 1997 packaging regulations are required to register annually either with the Environment Agency or with a compliance scheme.
Compliance schemes assume the legal responsibilities of their members, including the requirement to "take reasonable steps to recover and recycle" packaging waste. Evidence that this has been done is usually provided in the form of packaging waste recovery notes (PRNs) or their exports equivalent.
Compliance schemes and individually registered businesses have to buy these notes from packaging waste reprocessors or exporters. Schemes then bill their members each year for the PRNs that were needed to cover their packaging obligations. This is calculated on the basis of the tonnage of packaging each member handles.
Pizza Express joined Biffpack when the packaging regime came into effect in 1998 and renewed its membership each year. But its membership was terminated in November 2002 after the company failed to pay invoices relating to the purchase of PRNs on its behalf.
According to the Agency, Biffpack made it clear to Pizza Express that if it did not pay the invoices its membership would be rescinded - leaving it without any evidence that it had covered its recycling and recovery obligation for 2002.
When Biffpack informed the Agency that it had terminated Pizza Express's membership, the subsequent investigation found that the company had failed to pay £52,786 - its entire compliance cost for that year. The company claimed that the non-payment was due to an "administrative oversight".
Appearing at Isleworth Crown Court on 10 May, Pizza Express was fined £75,000 on a single charge of failing to take reasonable steps to recover and recycle packaging in 2002, contrary to the 1997 regulations. It was also ordered to pay £1,845 in costs. The hearing followed the company's guilty plea before Uxbridge magistrates on 2 March.
The fine is a record for a single company under the regulations. Banana retailer SH Pratt & Co was fined £53,000 in 2002. Earlier that year, three companies in the Lear car components group shared fines totalling £96,000, with the highest fine for an individual company being £40,000 (ENDS Report 335, p 59 ).
The case is also the first involving a company that was neither individually registered nor a "free rider" which had failed to register at all. The retailer River Island was prosecuted in 2001 after it left the Wastepack compliance scheme the previous year and then failed to register in 2001.