Packaging EPR lands in the New Year and many producers don’t even know about it

Packaging recycling

Stephanie Housty, Marketing and Sustainability Manager at Ecosurety, the B Corp certified packaging compliance scheme, calls on the resources and waste industry to ramp up its communication efforts to ensure packaging producers are aware of the packaging EPR implementation in a few weeks’ time.

Required actions under packaging Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)  finally begin in January 2023, over 4 years after it was announced by government in the Resources and Waste Strategy for England by Michael Gove and his team.

It has taken a while for this overdue reform to come to fruition, between the lengthy consultation process started in 2019 and the decisions made by Government based on the responses, not to mention the delays caused by the pandemic and political turmoil.

But now most details for packaging EPR have been confirmed by Government, outlining how the new regulation will work in practice for UK businesses that need to comply with this new legal requirement.

Packaging EPR, whose purpose is to reduce the environmental impact of packaging in the UK, is set to make producers more accountable than ever for the packaging they place on the market and encourage the use of less and more recyclable packaging. Organisations with a turnover of £1m and dealing with more than 25 tonnes of packaging annually are likely to have required actions to take, that can include complex data reporting and financial obligations.

You’d think that organisations likely to be impacted by this critical reform should be well aware by now if they are impacted and what it means to them, with plans in place to report more granular and frequent packaging data than ever before.

However, it is apparent that most packaging producers impacted by the new packaging regulations are at best confused and at worst completely oblivious of what’s coming their way.

The webinars organised by Defra last month on UK Extended Producer Responsibility were attended by thousands of producers bracing themselves for the change to come and eager to get more details on how to get to grips with it.

The resources and waste sector, especially packaging compliance schemes, have clearly an important role to play in disseminating the message so that packaging producers are informed of their legal new requirements

The webinar chat at times comprised of a continuous flow of comments from overwhelmed producers realising just how much time and resource will be needed to scale up their data management process to comply with the new regulation requirements, starting literally weeks later.

Same tune from the FoodService Packaging Association, who following feedback from their members recently called for an EPR information campaign for businesses: confusion is the predominant feeling shared by packaging organisations who already have EPR on their radar.

Then there is the case of the tens of thousands of small to medium organisations, who may not have been obligated under the existing packaging regulations and have still little to no awareness of the new regulation to come.

With the packaging EPR threshold reduced to half that of the previous regulations in terms of annual turnover and tonnage of packaging handled, small organisations currently out of scope of the old packaging regulations system will have to start collecting packaging data from January 2023, ready to register and submit their data in 2024.

Even businesses under the threshold will have to comply with mandatory labelling requirements from 2026 to inform consumers about the recyclability of their packaging.

Raising awareness of the new reform to all packaging businesses, from small producers to large multinational organisations is now critical, for this long awaited and needed reform to succeed in accelerating the country’s movement towards a circular economy, where packaging is more easily reused, recovered and recycled.

The resources and waste sector, especially packaging compliance schemes, have clearly an important role to play in disseminating the message so that packaging producers are informed of their legal new requirements.

It means unpacking the EPR guidance to make complex information digestible to the packaging producers, via clear and understandable guides, timelines, and bite-size videos like the ones we have created at Ecosurety, to properly address our audience’s concerns and questions.

With a few weeks left before packaging EPR kicks in, we all need to ramp up our communication efforts to all segments of packaging producers, from the small businesses that packaging regulations have not applied to so far, to SMEs that used to engage with their compliance scheme only once a year for their packaging submission, and multinationals with complex supply chains that will need support to navigate the significant change transition. It is our duty as a sector to communicate properly.

The next few months will be crucial for our industry to get the packaging producers community up to speed with Defra’s EPR guidance, ready to roll up their sleeves and get prepared for the first EPR submission for large organisations in October 2023.

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