Lack of regulatory harmonisation may cause DRS woes 

deposit return scheme

Louisa Goodfellow, Policy advisor at Ecosurety, reflects on the “disjointed approach” by devolved nations following the DRS consultation response release.

Although expected, it’s nonetheless disappointing to have confirmed a further delay to the DRS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the government’s recent consultation response.

Political upheaval and current economic priorities, as demonstrated by increasing industry frustration at the lack of clarity over imminent Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) measures for packaging, mean that government decision-making has not been as efficient as hoped in the last few years.

This implies that timelines promised in both the manifesto and written commitments, such as the 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy, have largely been unfulfilled. Perhaps the more problematic outcome of these delays and the devolved nature of waste policy however, for industry at least, is the increasing prevalence of a lack of regulatory coherence.

Lack of regulatory coherence

The recent DRS consultation response confirmed that glass will be out of scope only in England and Northern Ireland, but not Wales. Furthermore, the delay, although perhaps sensible considering the amount of preparation needed, means Scotland’s system will have been operational a full two years ahead of the rest of the UK.

Within the EPR system, Wales and potentially Scotland will charge producers a surcharge for ground litter management, whereas the other two nations won’t.

Discrepancies aren’t limited to materials in the forthcoming DRS systems: the Scottish system hasn’t regulated mandatory labelling whereas the rest of the UK will; there may be a variable deposit in three nations whereas Scotland will charge a flat 20p rate; and whereas producers there may self-fulfil their obligations by registering with SEPA, in the rest of the UK they will have to register with the yet to be established Deposit Management Organisation.

The devolved nations squandered an opportunity to collaborate to ensure strong and consistent policy-making.

Parking for the moment any compliance obligations producers may have further afield, producers liable under the various regulations including the Plastic Packaging Tax and the Scottish DRS, may have upward of 17 data submissions a year.

This clearly has the potential to be a huge challenge for businesses, and although compliance schemes will help navigate these changes, fragmented and piecemeal guidance and legislation means the complications involved might dilute these policies’ core sustainability aims.

It seems the devolved nations squandered an opportunity to collaborate to ensure strong and consistent policy-making and have instead risked operational and cost burdens that may discourage producers from seeing these systems as anything other than a tax.

Not without hope

With this said, when considering the above and recent activity, such as the latest single-use plastic ban announcement for England, promised progress is being made in waste and resources policy.

We hope that in the coming months momentum continues and Defra can get important legislation through parliament, so that producers have a clear understanding of their responsibilities, without these regulations’ foundational environmental objectives being lost.

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