Unpacking EPR progress – the consequences of EPR delay


supermarket shelves

Robbie Staniforth, Innovation and Policy Director at Ecosurety, discusses the progress made on EPR and states that despite delays to the payment mechanism, there are still reasons to be hopeful.

There has been a mixed reaction to the joint announcement from the four UK governments that EPR (extended producer responsibility) payments will be delayed until 2025. Many producers believe it to be the pragmatic and sensible option, given the state of play. Others believe that delaying now may be an indicator of even slower progress to come, given the chances of a change of government in the UK.

What does seem to be shared amongst most of the key stakeholders is frustration. Frustration that the promises made in the 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy for England have been broken; frustration at the amount of time wasted over the last five years; frustration that a coherent, effective, and efficient system has yet to emerge.

Local authorities are operating within ever-restricted budgets so are rightly frustrated that a potential income stream will not appear, as they were promised. However, the austerity experienced over the last decade is a political decision, so packaging producers cannot take all the blame for the travails of council waste service provision.

Much of the ire is directed at central governments. Not just the UK government, with England taking a lead on the policy design, but the devolved administrations too, who have not ensured speedier progress. However, looking for scapegoats is unhelpful. So much progress has been made that it would be a shame for factions to form and fingers to be pointed.

Ironing out the wrinkles in EPR


It has been reiterated that producers of packaging will be expected to report using the new single point of responsibility by 1 October this year. The data reporting legislation for packaging EPR has been passed in three out of the four nations (we’re still waiting for Wales) and should be viewed as meaningful progress.

It represents the first opportunity for producers to understand their new obligations and make changes to increase the amount of recyclable or reusable packaging they use to protect and deliver their products.

Furthermore, the consultation release finally allows all of the industry to ensure that the legal text accurately reflects the scheme design that was confirmed in March 2022. It is frustrating that it has taken 16 months for the draft regulations to see the light of day, but it is released now and marks another sign of the scheme design advancing. It is a final chance to iron out any wrinkles ahead of the big system change.

Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) has also recently announced the launch of a design review to ensure that the scheme administration is up to scratch ahead of full commencement. Such activities act as a further sign of the new system moving from theory to practical implementation.

All governance functions sitting within government would simply be too burdensome, given their seemingly decreasing resources and understandably limited understanding of recycling market mechanics. It is right that those outside of government also have a stake in the decisions that will ultimately define the effectiveness of the new regime.

Hope amongst inevitable delays

Circular economy

We should retain high hopes for improving environmental outcomes for packaging as it remains in the resource industry spotlight and will continue to do so until the full transition to a new governance system has been made.

Given they have been several years in the making, it may seem a little disingenuous to suggest that forging ahead with 2024 payments would have been rushing things through. However, so many elements of the system are simply not ready, albeit for seemingly unjustifiable reasons, that it would have been reckless to plough ahead with fees.

The legislation is still a way from being passed, the scheme administrator is not in place, and no one knows how the fees will be apportioned. These are just three of many reasons why the delay had to happen.

However, both public and private sectors must maximise every moment of this deferral period to ensure that there aren’t further delays. These changes to packaging EPR are holding up many other important policy areas.

Waste electricals and batteries legislation is not fit for purpose and needs to be urgently improved. We do not have any producer responsibility for tyres, textiles, carpets, nappies and many more items.

PRNS continue as usual


The one certainty we do have is that the packaging waste recovery note (PRN) system will continue in 2024. The sooner government can consult, agree, and pass modest targets, the better. The PRN system continues to have a role to play, but simply pushing up the targets for political optics would be an unwise move.

Sadly, now we are without the complementary waste management fees to finance packaging collections, higher targets are equally as likely to increase fraud and the volume of waste exported, as they are to create the right conditions for domestic reprocessing investment.

Despite EPR fees being delayed for a further year, there is still plenty of progress and reasons for hope. The principle of polluter pays has never been called into question throughout the whole process.

Producers of packaging understand that modulated fees are the right mechanism to encourage a shift to more environmentally friendly packaging. While the wait for the bill will continue, there is still plenty they can do to make sensible changes in the meantime.

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