What will Brexit mean for packaging and labelling?

* 4 min read

The packaging industry holds an interesting place in the Brexit debate. As with the broader issues, the factors affecting packaging are by no means cut and dried. While some areas of packaging are likely to be altered, others may well remain unchanged.

In this blog, we want to discuss not just the laws and regulations involved in packaging, but also what will happen to home-grown interests. Like other industries, packaging in the UK is closely linked with the EU but also operates independently to some extent. With our European neighbours already leading the way on sustainability, would Brexit mean Britain risks being left behind? And how differently will our products be labelled?

To answer these questions we got two of SBS’s finest on the case. Have a read below to hear Phil Dalton, head of regulatory, and Gillian Garside-Wight, packaging technology director, discuss Brexit and its implications for the packaging industry.

The legal side of packaging – only time will tell, says Phil Dalton, head of regulatory, Sun Branding Solutions

When it comes to labelling, the simple answer is that nobody really knows what effect Brexit will have. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make informed predictions. The volume of regulation that will be required to replace directly applicable EU law across the board leaves questions as to the priority likely to be given to food labelling, with the strong likelihood of the simplest possible solution being adopted.

It’s safe to say the basic principles of labelling will probably remain the same. The Food Information Regulations we currently use, which are specified by the EU, will likely remain in some shape or form. This could either be through legal measures adopting the text of the EU regulation when we set out on our own, or reproducing similar rules exclusively for the UK’s requirements. Over time if we choose to introduce an entirely new list of labelling requirements, it is likely to be similar to that of FIR, with some detail added and some removed.

What creating our own regulations could mean over time is a change to the finer details of some product-specific regulations aimed at simplification. For example, the detailed rules for wine or olive oil labelling are unlikely to be retained in the same form, but the rules of organic farming and labelling and food supplements are likely to live on largely unchanged.

At any rate, this transition could be quite tricky. When we Brexit, the government will have a hard task on its hand to reproduce such a complex list of legislation through Parliament in such a short time frame. A simple measure would be adopting the same provisions we have now, followed by a programme of change. This gives the benefit of a gradual transition, whist retaining the UK objective of simplification and deregulation over time once the full impact of Brexit is known. 

Trade, recycling and sustainability – what we risk by leaving, argues Gillian Garside-Wight, packaging technology director

Brexit could have negative consequences for the packaging industry in the UK, especially in terms of trade. The European Union simplifies the flow of goods between us and our neighbours. When we withdraw, the customs process will become a lot more complicated. Anything that incurs time incurs cost – and for British consumers cost is king.

Of course, there are lot of unknowns on this front. It’s not easy to say precisely what restrictions will come in. But for printers it will certainly be controversial. With the majority of their customers based abroad, impediments to foreign trade are really going to hurt their business. Emerging nations are keen to work with Europe and if we’re viewed as a separate entity the opportunities are going to be reduced.

What’s more, the EU has pushed the UK from a recycling and environmental perspective. Other EU countries do it better than us; they recycle a lot more of their packaging than we do. My concern is that by withdrawing from the EU, the UK might become stagnant rather than progressive in this sense. Being part of the EU we are encouraged to be more environmentally mindful to keep up with our European counterparts.

Ultimately, the negatives far outweigh the positives. It’s crucial that the packaging industry in the UK is held to account with regard to the environment. Leaving the European Union could spell an end to aggressive targets that have enabled us to be far more environmentally conscious.

At Sun Branding Solutions our Legal and Pack Science teams pride themselves on being at the cutting edge of the packaging industry.


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