Retailers continue to push back against UK Government’s packaging responsibility and recycling proposals

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has slammed the UK Government’s “sub-optimal” progress in implementing waste and recycling policies first proposed in 2018, and is now calling for further assertions that delivery will be properly financed ahead of the general election.

Retailers continue to push back against UK Government’s packaging responsibility and recycling proposals

Among the calls to action is a further delay to the DRS for drinks packaging, to account for EPR delays

The call to action is contained in a new ‘Manifesto for Retail’, which also includes wishlists for policy interventions related to crime, apprenticeships, business rates reform and planning policy changes.

Ahead of the general election, which must be called by January 2025, the Manifesto implores the next Government to set out “a clear strategy for delivering a circular economy, with regulations logically sequenced to deliver the maximum benefit without unnecessary burdens on consumers and businesses”.

Such a strategy should either be long-term or include clarity on its potential successor, in the BRC’s view.

A clear strategy – the Resources and Waste Strategy – was published in late 2018. However, most of its key inclusions have not been implemented due to the package being put on the back-burner during Covid-19 and two consecutive changes in prime Minister.

These included universal food waste collections from homes; standardized household mixed recycling; new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) requirements for businesses and a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks packaging.

The BRC continues to lambast Ministers for the slow delivery of the Strategy, calling implementation “sub-optimal”.

The Manifesto also raises specific concerns on sequencing and states that existing proposals “lack efficacy”.

Specifically, the BRC wants reforms to household waste collections to be introduced alongside – instead of after – EPR changes. This is to ensure that there are more recycled materials on the market as demand for them from British businesses grow.

In its current sequencing, the EPR would cost retailers £2bn annually, the Consortium estimates.

The Consortium also wants the EPR to precede the DRS, and for the launch of DRSs to be coordinated across all four UK nations.

DRS debacle

The BRC has been a long-standing challenger of the Government’s DRS plans. It claims to support the legislation in principle but has argued over the past two years that retailers should not be subjected to extra costs and administrative burdens while they are grappling with high energy and material costs.

As such, it has previously advocated delayed implementation. This has been effective; UK-wide DRS has been pushed back to early 2025. Scotland also delayed its own iteration, due to be the first in Britain, by seven months to early 2024.

The BRC continues to advocate for further delays on top of this. New EPR rules are set to come into force in October 2025, so an early 2025 DRS launch date would undermine the BRC’s ideal sequence.

Some other businesses are less keen on further delays as they can cause confusion on when and where to invest in new packaging and product designs and material, plus related infrastructure.

Concerns also abound about the impact of delays on the environment. Post-Brexit watchdog the Office for Environmental Protection ruled earlier this month that there has been “overall inadequacy” in efforts to increase recycling rates and reduce waste production rates this past year.

EPR investments

Another facet of the BRC’s manifesto is a call for the UK Government to ring-fence moneys raised through the EPR for re-investment in the recycling sector. It wants these investments to be spread across recycling infrastructure, collection systems, and behaviour change to increase recycling rates and material quality.

The lack of ring-fencing is an example of Government oversight, the Manifesto states, urging closer collaboration with industry experts to take learnings from schemes already implemented elsewhere in the world.

Some tweaks to the EPR regime were confirmed earlier this week. Chief among them was a differentiation between business-only packaging and household packaging, with the latter subjected to a higher cost obligation due to the increased risk of littering and likelihood of the packaging being single-use.

The Federation of Wholesale Distributors has called the intervention “a big win” which will save some firms millions of pounds each year.

Changes to how the moneys raised through the EPR, though, were not included in changes announced this week by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Further clarification is expected in February.

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