Government “stalling” on UK Extended Producer Responsibility delays

Category: Operations
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The man behind Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) has called for decisive action on introducing the UK Extended Producer Responsibility programme, as pressure mounts for Defra to stop missing legal deadlines. Speaking exclusively to Ecoveritas, renowned Swedish economist and engineer Thomas Lindhquist labelled the UK government’s intended approach to EPR “curious” and stressed the need for progress on the much-delayed environmental policy.

UK Extended Producer Responsibility

More than four years after the government began consulting on plans to make the industry responsible for the packaging it places on the UK market, there is little sign of movement on UK Extended Producer Responsibility – with recent government crisis talks descending into chaos.

The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) recently criticised Defra’s performance on waste minimisation, highlighting that the 25-Year Environment Plan has so far failed to bring about the changes needed, at the pace and scale required, something Lindhquist was keen to reiterate.

There are undoubtedly elements of stalling to this, especially when you make things complicated and want to solve them in a strictly legislative or society-orientated approach. It raises the risk of taking a very long time, and there’s still no guarantee that it will work well.

– Thomas Lindhquist

EPR is due to come into effect in 2024, but prolonged confusion within the waste sector over plans for deposit return schemes, extended producer responsibility and consistent household collections have left many within the waste sector exasperated.

It was recently reported that a ‘Business Readiness Forum’ held to salvage the delayed strategy was dominated by questions about the government’s readiness to introduce it.

Lindhquist, an Associate Professor and Director of Research Programs at the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University in Sweden, wrote a ground-breaking report in 1990 suggesting that a producer’s responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products and packaging extended past the point of sale and consumption.

The UK chose a different approach, and sometimes I was wondering why. I mean strictly theoretically, it’s a kind of intriguing system with competition elements. The problem is, of course, to do it in practice, in a good way, is extremely difficult and may cost a lot of money.

I have always imagined that some of that would be solved, that you automatise systems and you don’t have the same information barriers or access to information.

I find it politically interesting that you create a law where in some sense, you can say you’ll have to collect waste and put it into recycling. But you wouldn’t collect from households because that’s more expensive.

The total requirements were not such that you needed much from households, and then the government goes out and says that municipalities must put it into recycling – that’s wonderful for companies and many other actors. I’m kind of curious about those things.

– Thomas Lindhquist

Despite conceding some elements of EPR have evolved, even departed from the original concept, over time, it continues to make a difference, and Lindhquist would “like to come back and be part of rectifying” some parts of it in the future.

I’m rather optimistic. I did some work on this based on Swedish knowledge and ideas, and I was surprised at how well my thoughts go with various stakeholders. People I knew a bit, people I knew better, and people I have never met, we almost 100% agreed on both what has happened and what you need to do.

Then I’ve started to pay more attention when I listen to people from other countries, what is going on in Brussels and some of their governments. That’s made me optimistic. We will still do a lot of silly things and pay too much attention to eco modulation and how it works in France and some other countries. But it would maybe open minds to more action and different types of action. Some of the mistakes can be useful.

So, at a certain point, you need to do things instead of trying to reach full understanding and consensus.

– Thomas Lindhquist

With required actions under EPR finally underway, outlining how the new regulation will work in practice for UK businesses that must comply with this new legal requirement must become our priority.

We must move beyond discussing its merits and instead help businesses unpick the intricacies in already challenging times.

EPR can and should be about creating a circular packaging economy that prioritises source reduction and reuse above recycling. Well-designed EPR is a service charge for the collection, sorting and processing. When you look at other policy solutions, it has proven to be one of the most efficient and effective ways of tackling the problem. It provides the ongoing and sufficient funding scheme we need when designed correctly. It drives the proper environmental outcomes by putting money into the right places. Money that’s raised in the system stays in the system.

Andrew McCaffery, Chief Strategy Officer, Ecoveritas

ChannelX Take on UK Extended Producer Responsibility

In the mean time, for business delays, are in some ways welcome as it’s yet another burdensome bit of red tape and even worse one that will come with a cost attached in addition to administration overhead. However, what would be welcomed is guidance on what shape EPR will be applied in the UK to give time to adjust packaging to be as sustainable as possible coupled with minimising the EPR charges that a business will incur.

It’s also important to note that EPR, once introduced for packaging, is likely to be expanded to include product types further increasing the financial burden on many businesses and this needs to be baked into financial forecasting well ahead of implementation. Businesses have had enough challenges with the pandemic, inflation and energy prices without having what’s effectively an addition tax burden coming into effect with little time to prepare.

3 Responses

  1. What we do for the environment in this country makes absolutely 0 difference in the face of the destruction caused by Brazil, USA, Korea, China, Russia, India and elsewhere… and you’d be an absolute fool to think these places will follow the UK or Europe to economic suicide.

    One thing is certain, these kind of regulations will be the final nail in the coffin for many SMEs.

    1. That’s the point of them, it’s the equivalent of “moral” virtue signalling enforced on all businesses.

      There was a phrase I heard recently which mentioned that you could just remove the UK from the face of the earth and the difference in emissions would be less than 2%

  2. Indeed Ryan!

    But I think I have come up with an even better scheme: we will use less packaging, and Royal Mail (and other couriers) promise to handle all our items super carefully! Now that is easy to do. With no automated parcel sorting machines, and everything being handled by a human being.

    And let’s also see each individual person working at those companies personally fined and punished for every item they drop or break whilst in their care.

    It’s never ever gonna happen, but it’s what should happen!

    Until that day I will be using tons and tons of plastic bubblewrap thanks very much…


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