The Department for Environment, Foods, and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed yesterday (25 July) that the waste management fees under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging will be delayed by one year.
These waste management fees are being established to reimburse local authorities for the collection and management of packaging waste, and they will mean liable packaging producers will be charged under a new single point of compliance.
Packaging EPR is about helping shift the responsibility for waste management to those who create the material, and it is viewed as a way of encouraging more environmentally-friendly practices within the business world. Fees apply to packaging that is deemed to be household waste or that which commonly ends up in public bins.
Fees were previously scheduled to be operational in 2024, based on 2023 packaging data. However, Defra’s update has now put the start of fee paying back until after the next General Election in October 2025, meaning they won’t apply in the first year of EPR.
Reasons given by the government for the delay include “the pressure facing consumers and businesses in the current economic context” and that “the additional year will be used to continue discussions on the scheme’s design with industry and reduce the costs of implementation wherever possible.” But others suggest that the political motivation for moving more quickly with the project and new legislation is not there.
What the government said…
UK government said it will provide an indication of what the EPR packaging fees will be in 2024 and that the costs will vary depending on the materials reported. And from 2025 the waste management fee will vary depending on how easily the packaging can be recycled, with it cheaper for packaging that is easier to recycle.
Data and packaging recovery note (PRN) requirements are unchanged, and businesses still need to follow new data reporting obligations under packaging EPR – with obligated large producers needing to report detailed packaging data twice a year, and small producers once a year. Although EPR packaging fees are delayed, this legislation has not been revoked and the first deadline of October 2023 remains the same.
The delayed consistent recycling collections for households in the UK will come in after the implementation of the EPR scheme.
Environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “We’re determined to transform the way we collect, recycle and reuse our waste materials so we eliminate all avoidable waste by 2050 in a way that works for households and consumers.
“That’s better for our environment. We are also listening to industry and ensuring our work to tackle inflation and to drive up recycling go hand in hand, to make sure our reforms will be a success.”
Paul Vanston, CEO of the Industry Council for Packaging & the Environment
“UK and devolved ministers are making the right set of decisions at this time to drive forward the shaping of the collections and packaging reforms. Ensuring overall systems efficiency, cost-effectiveness and high recycling performance are essentials for the governments and stakeholders to achieve together.”
Ecosurety innovation & policy director Robbie Staniforth…
“It comes as no shock that the timelines for waste management payments have been delayed. While civil servants have been working hard to meet the challenging timescales, there simply hasn’t been enough political will or strong leadership at pace from the senior politicians above.
“It is a shame that five years after declaring an intention to introduce “full net costs”, under an EPR system, that the government are still not ready. All the major stakeholder groups have devoted countless hours to help government understand what is required, but unfortunately, the topic of packaging, and its reuse and recycling, didn’t prove to be a significant enough priority to the department or wider government.
“The decision to delay is a sensible one, but it is tinged with sadness for what could have been.”
Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at the British Retail Consortium…
“The government is right to extend the timelines on its packaging reform. Its plans are not ready, and this would simply drive up food prices without delivering the improvements in recycling everybody wants. We need to use the additional time to design an effective recycling scheme that delivers value for money for households across the UK.
“Recycling rates have stagnated for a decade. If they are to rise, there must be better coordination of the government’s waste reforms so that there is consistency in how we recycle across the country. It’s also vital that the £2 billion EPR is expected to raise annually, is targeted towards improving infrastructure to boost the supply of recycled material for reuse. We look forward to continuing to work with government to ensure that EPR delivers for the environment and for consumers.”
Kathy Illingworth, Ecoveritas head of sustainability & consulting…
“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.
“It’s bittersweet. 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.
“What is clear is that there were major question marks over the scheme’s readiness and a real lack of confidence. We must now prioritise agreeing and setting the fees this summer so that affected companies can plan for these additional costs.
“Despite the further delay and the risk that the scheme’s implementation is lost in the run-up to the election, Ecoveritas stands ready to work with government and industry to design an EPR scheme that delivers a high level of recycling and effectively tackles packaging waste.”
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.
“It now throws up all sorts of unanswered questions about how PRN payments in 2024 will work, whether we will have to report under the old packaging waste rules and whether PRN obligations will be based on that.
“Inevitably, there are suspicions the full strategy might never happen. 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.
“EPR has been five years in the making, and the level of innovation and the pace of change from packaging manufacturers is impressive. Many positive steps have already been taken.
“Many packaging manufacturers will have put a lot of thought into designing something that will hit EPR requirements, particularly where different players in the packaging chain have different responsibilities.
“Our focus is helping businesses get their data ready. Businesses have already put time, energy, and resources into preparing. We now must ensure it’s realistic and give producers all the information they need – and resist continuously changing it.”
The UK government said this week that it will “continually examine and scrutinise” its green policies, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hinting he could ditch or water down those initiatives that increase costs for consumers, as the environment and efforts to protect the planet have seemingly become key issues in the run-up to the next General Election.
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer even suggested last week that the recent Conservative by-election victory in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, a seat made vacant by the former Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was due to Labour mayor for London Sadiq Khan’s plans to extend the Ultra Low Emissions Zone across the capital.
And now thanks to UK government-enforced delay, EPR packaging fees will come in after the next General Election, just like the proposed deposit return scheme for Scotland which was initially due to be in place by spring 2024.
With a General Election on the horizon and Starmer the favourite in the polls to become the next UK premier, has Sunak and his party identified anti-green policy sentiment as a vote winner to stay in power? It is certainly something to monitor in the months ahead.
[Image credit: Amazon]