Experts foresee a world of tougher green regulations

Jon Severs
Monday, June 30, 2014

Printers are used to having to play by the rules; manufacturer guidelines, colour management requirements, health & safety directives, tax regulations, data security rules – all these things and a dozen more besides are just part of the everyday administration required to run a printing business in today’s market.

But in one area of regulation, namely the environment, the requirements on businesses are becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of. 

According to the experts, it’s getting harder and harder to know what needs to be complied with and how to go about complying with it. And this problem could be exacerbated as further legislation is introduced. 

However, before looking ahead at what might be on the horizon, it’s worth taking a look at how extensive current legislation is. As Clare Taylor, of environmental consultancy Clare Taylor Consulting, points out: there’s plenty of it.

“A lot of the legislation that applies to printers is around waste,” she explains. “However, there are also regulations around chemicals, chemical handling, pollution prevention and things like what you can or cannot flush down the sewer.”

The latter is where many printers can become unstuck, says Taylor. 

“If you have a yard with surface water drains that lead to a river, for example, it is illegal to wash your vans in that yard. Not many businesses, including printers, are aware of that,” she says. 

John Haines, general manager of J&G Environmental, adds that one of the biggest changes in the past 12 months has been in the area of waste classification. 

“Changes to the packaging regulations have been the main one recently,” he explains. “Under the changes, any used packaging that has contained hazardous waste and that has not been cleaned or decontaminated is now classed as hazardous waste. Disposal must comply with the Hazardous Waste Regulations 2005.”

It’s clearly a lot to take in and, recognising this, the government made an announcement earlier this year that set out plans to reduce and simplify the environmental legislation impacting businesses. 

In January, David Cameron announced that by March 2015 Defra will have slashed 80,000 pages of environmental guidance, which, the government promised, would save businesses a total of around £100m per year. The initiative, part of the Red Tape Challenge, a broader scheme to reduce overall domestic regulation for businesses, would have been roundly welcomed, had it actually made things easier. 

But Taylor says this is not the case. 

“The Environment Agency has always had really good guidance on what might apply to you as a business and what you need to do if it does. But what the Red Tape Challenge has done is scrap many of those guidance documents in its cull of ‘red tape’,” she explains. “So now it’s incredibly difficult for businesses to find out what they need to do. There is an archive being kept of the guidance, but this will hold all versions of the legislation, so you won’t know which document is the most recent. It is causing a lot of consternation in the environment community.”

She adds that the information that does still exist on government websites has been so over-simplified it is now adding to the confusion. 

Tom Rayer, BPIF HS&E adviser for the South West and the Midlands, agrees that it is incredibly difficult for printers to know what they have to do to comply with legislation. And this can mean some are far behind where they should be.

“Last year I visited a company that didn’t know how to dispose of their hazardous waste,” he reveals. “I put them in touch with a service provider straight away, but if I hadn’t been there they simply wouldn’t have known it was a requirement.”

He says a common problem is that much of the legislation is targeted at manufacturers with big energy requirements or which produce a lot of pollutants, but which also have the financial and personnel resources to afford the charges and keep abreast of the regs. For smaller companies, it’s tougher to keep on top of things. And it’s likely to get harder still.

At present, there is only one confirmed change to environmental regulations on the horizon: a further hike in waste charges. “The cost of sending waste to landfill is growing year on year and so this is a confirmed cost companies are going to have to plan for,” says Rayer. “These costs have reached a level now where they are starting to hurt even the largest printers. That is the major one on the horizon.”

J&G’s Haines says printers should also keep a close eye on waste classifications too, in coming months. “As happens quite regularly we would expect more changes to the classification of print waste in the coming 12 months or so,” he says.

Taylor adds that there is also a programme called the Energy Savings Opportunities Scheme that has been proposed, which will apply to the largest printers. This will make it a requirement for these companies to have an energy audit, although the details were still unconfirmed at the time of writing.  

Dual benefits

As for the longer term, Taylor says printers should take the initiative and implement green processes themselves, if they want to avoid further regulation. This is no bad thing, of course, particularly when you consider that eco-friendly measures almost always deliver cost savings alongside the green benefits. 

She adds that as new knowledge emerges in terms of how or why to save energy and reduce emissions, new legislation will undoubtedly follow.

Rayer agrees that legislation will proliferate. “I do think regulations will get tighter, but it may well have to flatline at some point as there is only so green a business can go before it just can’t operate any more,” he says.

The thought of new regulations will no doubt have many cursing Europe, but Taylor says the EU gets an unfair rap when it comes to environmental legislation. Not least because a lot of this legislation is about protecting businesses, she says. 

“If you are a printer that does everything they can to be green it will cost you more to produce a product than a company not doing that,” she explains. “So before waste regulations came in, a good example would have been a company that got rid of its waste responsibly, at a cost, being outpriced by a company that did not. Obviously, if you are the responsible printer, you would find other responsible printers and lobby government to make your methodology a legal requirement, so you don’t get outpriced. So it can be a beneficial thing.”

The second thing to remember, she says, is that this legislation is not just Europe sticking its nose in and hassling small businesses. “If you go to Australia or the US, exactly the same legislation exists,” she explains. “This is not the EU being overly bureaucratic and restrictive, though people grumble and say it is; instead, it is them rolling out changes that are agreed internationally as being needed.”

So how can printers comply, given the aforementioned complications? Regarding waste legislation, Taylor and Haines say that if you employ a decent waste management contractor, then it should be able to keep you on top of the rules. 

As for other legislation, Taylor explains that bigger firms will be able to afford an employee dedicated to keeping up to date. 

But she says things are still difficult even then. “Even I find it difficult because you can find so much of the information contradictory,” she explains. “You end up having to cross reference multiple sources to try and ascertain the facts.”

Rayer agrees and says it is often organisations like the BPIF that have to step in, especially with SMEs. “We provide the information through various mediums as printers really do need that support,” he says. “We have environmental audits and we also assist in companies getting environmental accreditations that introduce measures that can help companies stay on top of things.”

Rayer says the march of technology is making things both easier and more difficult. “Print is adapting,” he says. “Look at digital – the waste is so small it makes compliance easier. However, it has to be noted that disposal of cartridges is difficult and where the manufacturer does not take them back they have to find a home for them to stay green.” 

So clearly printers are doing their best when it comes to compliance with green legislation, but things are not easy. They need more support and clearer information if the government is serious about hitting its green targets. 

Printers are ready to help, but to convert a desire to be greener into an ability to be greener requires assistance. So it may be that printers will have to get together and lobby for just that. 

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