Major packaging reforms spearhead Resources and Waste Strategy

A huge overhaul of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system has been proposed today (18 December) in the Government's Resources & Waste Strategy, which also includes plans for separate household food waste collections and a nationwide deposit return scheme.

The 147-page Resources & Waste Strategy – the first comprehensive update in more than a decade – sets out a long-term blueprint for waste prevention, reuse and recycling in the UK.

Defra’s much-anticipated plan will “cement our place as a world leader in resource efficiency,” Environment Secretary Michael Gove is expected to say when it is officially unveiled later today.

“Our strategy sets out how we will go further and faster, to reduce, reuse, and recycle,” Gove tell an audience at Veolia’s recycling centre in London. “Together we can move away from being a ‘throw-away’ society, to one that looks at waste as a valuable resource.

“We will cut our reliance on single-use plastics, end confusion over household recycling, tackle the problem of packaging by making polluters pay, and end the economic, environmental and moral scandal that is food waste.”


Spotlight on producers

Under the proposals, producers will be forced to pay full net-costs of disposal of packaging they place on the market – up from just 10% now. Ministers hope that this action will move waste up the hierarchy and stimulate secondary markets, as seen in other countries across the world.

Defra will shortly consult on reforms of packaging waste regulations, with a further consultation by the end of 2020 which will look at changing EPR regimes to incentivise sustainable product design for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and batteries. By the end of 2025, EPR could also be extended to hard-to-recycle materials such as textiles, fishing gear, vehicle tyres, certain materials from construction, and bulky waste such as mattresses, furniture and carpets.

Recycling levels have languished in England for several years, with the latest statistics released last week showing that the country is currently not on track to achieve its recycling target of 50% by 2020. Through the Strategy, Defra will aim to boost recycling levels by introducing a consistent set of recyclable material for collection. This would be funded by industry through EPR for packaging, which the Government believes will raise between £0.5bn-£1bn a year for recycling and disposal.

Another major area of focus in the Strategy is food waste; ministers will call for evidence on whether to provide weekly collections of food waste for every household. At the moment only 35% of households in England are obliged to put food waste in its own caddy. The scheme would reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) from landfill, but some experts believe it could lead to less frequent collections of general household waste.

Other key measures within the Strategy include the introduction of annual reporting of food waste by food businesses, which could become mandatory should progress be “insufficient”, and a look at obligatory guarantees and extended warranties on products, to encourage manufacturers to deliver best-practice in product design.

As widely-expected, the Government will consult on the introduction of a deposit return scheme to increase the recycling of single-use drinks containers including bottles, cans, and disposable cups filled at the point of use. But a nationwide rollout would be unlikely before 2023.

‘Government getting serious’

The document has been broadly met with cautious optimism by the environmental sector. Many have welcomed the Strategy for providing a “much-needed framework to reboot recycling” and support progress towards a more circular economy.

“At long last the Government appears to be getting serious about tackling England’s vast mountains of waste,” Friends of the Earth’s waste campaigner Julian Kirby said.
“Forcing firms to pay the full cost dealing with the packaging they create is great news, and will give companies a clear incentive to produce less waste in the first place.”

These thoughts were echoed by David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of Suez, who described the Strategy as providing a “step change” in the UK’s move towards a resource-efficient economy.

“At its core, this Strategy demands better coordination between all of those involved in the production and management of waste – from product-design to retail, consumption, collection and recycling or reuse – and will empower businesses across the value chain to work together, helping consumers to make sustainable choices regarding the things they buy and throw away,” he said.

Palmer-Jones was particularly pleased to see Defra’s backing for a full net-cost recovery model of producer responsibility. “Making producers fully responsible for the cost and collection of products and packaging will put Britain back among the world leaders for attaining higher recycling rates and driving out waste,” he said. “The Strategy rightly, however, seeks to give business some say in how this can be most effectively implemented to achieve environmental goals without inflating costs.”

Nonetheless, some sections of the green community voiced concerns about certain aspects of the Strategy In particular, the Government’s decision to delay a rollout of a national deposit return particularly came under fire, with the Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) Chair Mary Creagh accusing ministers of “kicking the waste can down the road again”.

“The plastic bottle deposit return scheme promised in 2018 won’t be ready until 2023,” said Creagh, who is set grill the Environment Secretary about the key details of the Strategy in an EAC hearing on Wednesday. “Textile waste piling up in landfill won’t be tackled until even later. With scientists warning we have just 12 years to tackle climate change, this Strategy is too little, too slowly.”

George Ogleby

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