SUEZ calls for extended producer responsibility system to spark ‘waste revolution’

Waste and resource management firm SUEZ has called on the UK Government to extend its existing Producer Responsibility Obligation (PRO) framework and raise the cost of Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs) to accelerate the shift to a circular economy.

In a new blueprint entitled Un-packaging Extended Producer Responsibility, SUEZ suggests that legal requirements for producers to ensure that a proportion of their marketed products are recovered and recycled should be extended.

The obligation currently covers producers of packaging, batteries, vehicles and electrical goods, but the blueprint calls for these obligations to be extended to tyres, mattresses and other consumer goods.

The eight-page document also suggests that producers should be required to pay a deposit or modulated fee covering the full costs associated with managing the materials in their products at the end of their life.

Additionally, it recommends that the cost of PRNs, which averages at around €20 per tonne in the UK, should be increased to incentivise the production of more sustainable packaging. Other European nations have an average cost of around €150 per tonne. 

The recommendations form part of a set of ten key principles which SUEZ claims would facilitate a “waste revolution” in the UK if enacted in full. The principles also include on-product information about sustainability to help consumers choose the most circular products, financial rewards for producers which champion cradle-to-cradle business models and fines for companies which fail to comply with PROs.

SUEZ’s technical development director Stuart Hayward-Higham said the principles would provide “robust and useful guidance” to policymakers ahead of the publication of the Government’s new Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS).

Designing an extended producer responsibility scheme which is efficient in both cost and delivery, and which therefore minimises passed-on costs to consumers, is essential,” Hayward-Higham said.

“Furthermore, we believe that the design of extended producer responsibility systems should ensure they can expand and be scaled as necessary, so we do not end up with multiple repeated schemes.”

The publication of the blueprint comes shortly after an unprecedented number of respondents to a UK Government consultation examining plastic waste called for tax reforms to help companies move away from cradle-to-grave models for plastic use.

Collaborative actions

The blueprint is the result of around 25 workshops which SUEZ has hosted in a bid to find out which policy changes corporates, packaging manufacturers, consultants, local authorities and consumers would like to see enacted around waste.

Workshop attendees notably included representatives from the Scottish, Welsh and UK Governments, The Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) and big-name brands such as Marks & Spencer, Coca-Cola and Iceland.

Each of the three corporates has made moves to drive circularity in their own operations in recent times. Iceland, for example, has committed to removing all single-use plastic packaging from its own-brand products by 2023 – an unprecedented pledge within the supermarket sector. The frozen food chain has also trialled reverse vending machines in its stores and publicly supported a nationwide deposit return scheme for plastic bottles to be introduced.

M&S, meanwhile, has set a 2022 target of ensuring that all plastic packaging that could end up with customers will be “widely recycled”. As part of its aim, the retailer is planning to develop one recyclable plastic polymer for use across all of its plastic packaging.

Elsewhere, Coca-Cola is striving to collect one bottle or can for every one it sells by 2030, in a bid to recycle the equivalent of all of its packaging. The head of sustainability at the company’s largest independent bottler, Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), recently told edie that the corporation would spend the next 12 months calling for PRO reforms and a nationwide deposit return system for plastics.

Sarah George

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