A new look at waste and producer responsibility for recycling

July 02, 2021

The need to recycle to reduce waste is an especially pressing issue in terms of packaging. Many products come with large amounts of, typically unrecyclable, packaging that is generating a waste problem. The issue spans the consumables market, affects products ranging from foodstuffs to takeout coffee and is an ongoing stumbling block in terms of litter and landfill. In a recent article for ENDS Report magazine, Andrew Sowerby, Senior Waste Management Consultant at RSK Environment, discussed the importance of producers taking responsibility for the waste their products generate. A consultation was launched in April this year to advise on a new and reformed extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme in the UK.

This new consultation, which closed on 4 June, aimed to “define key elements of the proposed scheme”, including cost, obligations, governance and regulation. The existing EPR scheme, introduced in the UK in 1997, is now outdated and insufficient to contend with the scale of the problem almost 25 years later. The proposed policy aims to make “packaging producers responsible for the full net costs of managing” the packaging they place on products that reach the market. This takes the cost away from taxpayers and waste management contractors. Intended to “encourage producers to question” whether the product packaging is necessary and appropriately recyclable, the scheme transfers more responsibility for the waste created back to the producer. The EPR sets targets for the recycling of the “six main packaging materials” that are most commonly used: paper, glass, aluminium, steel, plastic and wood. It is envisaged that new targets will be introduced to take into account the growing use of materials such as composites for cartons and some paper cups.

The proposed new scheme is expected to drastically increase the commitment made by producers by lowering the thresholds on turnover and the amount of packaging handled annually to require more businesses to register. The new scheme is expected to cost producers £2.7 billion in its first year, a significant increase on the current costs of £200–300 million per year. The increased cost to producers will be a reflection of the increase in the associated costs of the materials used in packaging.

Subscribers to ENDS Report can read Andrew’s article in full online.