The litter levy: Should brands take more responsibility for the UK’s waste woes?

Brands such as McDonald's, Coca Cola, Costa Coffee and Wrigley should strive to become a "big part of the solution" to the amount of litter plaguing UK streets, by working with the Government to implement an Extended Produce Responsibility (EPR) scheme.

That’s according to a policy paper released today (11 October) by waste management industry body the Environmental Services Association (ESA), which is calling on big brands to take responsibility for the management of products during an end of life phase.

This EPR approach would see producers such as PepsoCo, Cadbury’s and Carlsberg adopt “levies” per product sold in order to generate funds to help local authorities deal with the £800m costs of cleaning up litter in the UK annually.

ESA’s executive director Jacob Hayler said: “Cigarette butts and chewing gum are some of the most littered items in the UK. Transferring the cost of preventing and clearing up these items from the public to the private purse could save local authorities in the region of £300 million each year.

“This money would be used by local authorities to cover litter clean-up costs or to help fund anti-litter campaigns. We are also calling on the Government to consider the role that EPR could play in its forthcoming litter strategy.” 

The ESA’s paper – titled the Role of EPR in Tackling Litter in the UK – highlights how a correctly designed EPR system could aid “cash-strapped” authorities in managing clear-up schemes.

Litter levy

Under the ESA’s proposals, manufacturers of chewing gum and cigarettes would have to pay a 0.5p levy per product. The ESA believe that through this levy, cigarettes alone would generate £155m annually, while chewing gum – which costs 3p to produce compare to £1.50 to clean-up – would raise around £60m for authorities. The paper notes that while there is little cost data relating to food and drink packaging, an estimate places the clean-up process at around £100m.

A longer-term adoption of the system could also pave the way for a circular economy in the UK, as product design and material recovery are improved, according to the paper.

The ESA goes on to cite campaign group Clean Up Britain in calling on “famous brands” to become part of the solution, with company’s producing cigarettes, chewing gum and fast-food and drink packaging specifically targeted. Some of the listed companies, such as McDonalds and Wrigley, are already a part of a UK campaign group backing a Litter Manifesto, which calls on the Government to incentivise action on tackling waste.

The paper also calls on the Government to “consider in some detail” the role that EPR can play in tackling the UK’s litter problem as part of its upcoming Litter Strategy. ESA believes that regardless of whether the UK ends up in or out of the Single Market, EPR can be used to drive the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package to the heart of UK manufacturing.

ESA also alluded to Jeremy Paxman’s role as patron of the Clean Up Britain campaign, which wants to work “constructively” with major corporations to address the litter issue. Speaking in Birmingham earlier this year, Paxman said he was “sick to the back teeth” of Britain’s litter problem and called on businesses to take the initiative.

Matt Mace

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