The EPR scheme, which will see a producer’s responsibility for packaging extending to the post-consumer stage to help with recycling targets, has been postponed until October 2025 – a decision which was predicted by many across the industry.
Despite the announcement, Defra has clarified that this update has not adjusted other timescales and producers must still report packaging data for 2023.
"We're yet to come across anyone who disagrees with the direction of travel. But, for an ambitious reform, it has long been apparent that there were too many missing puzzle pieces and far too many detractors before its launch,” commented Ecoveritas' head of sustainability & consulting, Kathy Illingworth on today’s (25 July 2023) decision.
Use this time wisely
Margaret Bates, managing director OPRL, which operates the UK-wide On-Pack Recycling Labels scheme, has said that this is an opportunity to use the time constructively.
For example, under EPR, every single piece of packaging must be labelled to show whether it can be recycled - this will mean businesses will have to assess whether packaging items are recyclable and arrange new labelling.
“Those which prepare now will benefit from lower fee costs and show a strong brand response,” Bates advised.
Loss of confidence in EPR framework
The delay also means that the public will continue to bear the cost of packaging recycling and disposal until roll-out.
Illingworth reasons that investment in recycling infrastructure may therefore be more difficult due to a loss of confidence in the legislative framework.
"It’s bittersweet,” Illingworth noted. “This pause for thought should allow Defra to build in more clarity, but there is certainly a job to be done to rebuild confidence. At the same time, all eyes will be on the industry now, who, having gotten the delay they wanted, should rally around a good policy for the planet and the environment. Perhaps the Government can now make progress on the consistency of collection by local authorities, which will be essential if EPR is to be the effective policy we know it can be.”
She added: "You have got to wonder how already squeezed council budgets are to build the local system that best meets the needs of their local area. Still, the good news is that the data reporting legislation has become law, and the requirements remain as it is, so at least the Government can more accurately assess the amount of packaging placed onto the market in 2023 and 2024 before introducing new fees.”
Scott Hawthorne, founding director of Skips and Bins also raised issue with how lighter wastes are managed. Commenting on this, he said: "What would be far, far, more useful is a drastic tightening up of packaging regulations to allow only a maximum of two or three forms of plastic, period, for packaging. This would reduce plastic waste in favour of paper based products, whilst also increasing volumes of the two or three specific remaining plastic waste types by weight, and as such make separation, collection, and recycling of those waste streams significantly more practice and viable."
However, Illingworth said this has thrown up lots of “unanswered questions” around how packaging waste recovery notes (PRN) payments will work next year and whether companies will need to report under the old packaging waste rules and if the PRN obligations will be based on that.
Moreover, although EPR has now been earmarked 2025, Illingworth has said that with the election next year, further delays could be on the cards.
"Inevitably, there are suspicions the full strategy might never happen,” she added. “But any failure to achieve a UK-wide reform of waste and recycling services within a reasonable time scale would be a case study of back-sliding, incompetence, and political amnesia.”
In other news, researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and the University of Colorado Boulder have found that reducing food spoilage has an unintended consequence for the environment.