Britain’s new packaging EPR scheme delayed by a year

The reformed Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme was meant to launch in October 2024, having first been promised in late 2018. Now, it will not launch until October 2025.

Under the new EPR scheme, the cost of managing packaging waste will be shifted from councils and the taxpayer to businesses. Businesses can reduce costs by improving material efficiencies and adopting formats that are easy to recycle.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said the delay has been confirmed in light of the current cost pressures facing packaging producers, including higher energy and material costs. The Government is also keen not to rush the scheme by passing these costs on to households.

But industry bodies that have been observing the EPR reforms also noted that delays within the Government itself meant that the new scheme would likely not have been ready for an October 2024 launch.

Ecoveritas’ head of sustainability Kathy Illingworth has said that “for an ambitious reform, it has been apparent that there were too many missing puzzle pieces and far too many detractors before its launch”.

Industry bodies that had been advocating the delay include the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Illingworth added that the delay should be used by the Government to provide more clarity, as much will need to be done to rebuild confidence that the scheme will ever get off the ground.

Pow insisted that the Government is “determined” to transform waste management in the UK to eliminate all avoidable waste by 2050.

The UK Government’s environmental watchdog stated earlier this year that residual waste production per capita is on the rise, according to the latest figures. The Government is targeting a 50% reduction between 2019 and 2042 going forward.

Many environmental groups believe this target will not be met without strong signals now regarding disposables and items that are hard to recycle.

City to Sea’s chief executive Harriet Bosnell said: “There is a very simple principle here. Those who pollute should pay.

“The ruling Conservative Party has repeatedly said they agreed with this principle: in their 2018 Resource and Waste Strategy for England, their 2019 Manifesto, their UK-wide 2019 consultation and the subsequent 2021 consultation, and in various Ministerial statements over the last five years. It is utterly disappointing then that after years of feet dragging, we’re told that this can will be kicked down the road and not implemented until after the next General Election.”

Delays again

EPR reforms were first promised under the Resources and Waste Strategy. This was published in 2018, but consultations on the key parts of the strategy have been plagued with delays over the past three years.

The Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) had already delayed the introduction of weekly food waste collections for homes; the launch of unified recycling collections for homes and the UK-wide Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks containers. There are also clashes between the UK and Scottish Governments over whether the DRS should include glass.

Many businesses have already invested in re-designing packaging to comply with EPR requirements and to prepare for the DRS. It is widely hoped that this investment will not have gone to waste.

A Plastic Planet’s co-founder Sian Sutherland told edie: “As an entrepreneur, I know that one thing business need is absolute certainty before making dramatic changes within their supply chains. They also need policies that align with other big markets – especially the EU.

“So to delay EPR reforms yet again, on top of the disastrous dilly-dally on DRS for bottles and the ineffective plastic tax, is not helpful to business in the medium term.

“If a UK business wants to sell beyond the UK, and most of us do, we need to comply with EU standards and policies.  With the UN Global Treaty under negotiation for end 2024, it’s clear our government cannot lead on anything that protects us and our home planet.”

From a waste management perspective, SUEZ UK’s chief external affairs and sustainability officer Adam Read said that “constant delays” are “preventing” businesses like his from knowing when and where to invest.

The EPR changes for packaging will be followed by similar reforms in other sectors including textiles.

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