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Defra warned EPR facing ‘significant hurdles’ as ‘lobbying’ ramps up

The UK’s extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme is facing “significant hurdles” as producers do not have access to the recycled materials needed, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation has warned.

Karen Betts speaking at the letsrecycle National Conference

This comes as Defra has been “engagingly closely with manufacturers, retailers, and packaging companies” in recent weeks to thrash out final delivery of the system.

Speaking at the inaugural letsrecycle.com National Conference & Dinner in London last week (8 June), Karen Betts said while industry supports the legislation it is not “fit for purpose” as it stands.

She explained: “What holds us back on this at the moment is access to recycled material for new packaging. In short there simply isn’t enough of it to meet demand. Because the collection and recycling system in the UK isn’t generating enough of it.”

She added that there were significant challenges hindering the implementation of the EPR scheme, including the “fragmented state of the current recycling system in the UK”. She said varying recycling processes and infrastructure across local authorities have led to inconsistencies in recycling rates throughout the country.

Ms Betts added: “A cohesive and efficient system that encourages recycling and reduces waste is crucial for meeting the desired targets. However, without a clear roadmap for such a system, progress remains uncertain.”

She went on to express concern about the lack of readiness in the system, stating that only a small select number of people have seen the full policy under the National Data Repository. This lack of transparency “raises doubts about the government’s preparedness to implement the EPR scheme effectively”.

She added that “the UK will be left behind” if it cannot implement a successful EPR system.

‘Tax’

Ms Betts also drew attention to the concerns that EPR “appears to resemble a tax rather than a responsibility scheme”.

She drew comparisons to similar initiatives in Russia and Hungary, where the primary goal was revenue generation rather than actively contributing to net-zero targets.

No one can budget for what they don’t know

  • Paul Vanston, INCPEN

Targets

Elsewhere in the discussion, Paul Vanston, chief executive of INCPEN, said the government has “run out of time” to meet the 2024 targets. Vanston emphasised the urgent need for clear direction from the government, highlighting the limited remaining hours until the end of the year to achieve these goals.

He explained: “We won’t achieve the environmental benefits if we fail to address the economics. And although these packaging reforms are environmental in their ambitions if we fail to get the economics right can we surprised if we don’t achieve environmental reforms.”

Mr Vanston added that industry “sorely needs” a scheme administrator to calculate the costs to be made by producers and managing waste disposed of by households.

He said: “Not a single person in this , whether paying money or receiving money,  knows what’s going to be that number for you. No one can budget for what they don’t know. We needed clarity in 2021/22 not six months away from the target.”

The current proposals are unambitious, and would see money wasted

  • British Retail Consortium

Lobbying

The concerns raised at the conference come as as Defra is coming under pressure over the proposals and how they tie in with consistent collections.

A series of meetings in recent weeks have taken place between the department and producers over EPR. The British Retail Consortium told letsrecycle.com that the proposals as they stand would see money waste as local authorities are “not yet equipped” to handle the material.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Government must extend its timelines for Extended Producer Responsibility to ensure the necessary time to improve the UK’s abysmal recycling rates and create the world-leading recycling reforms we were promised. The current proposals are unambitious, and would see money wasted, as retailers – and their customers – pay for the recycling of materials that local authorities are not yet equipped to handle.”

Clarity

However, there so far has been no clarity on when the consistent collections consultation response will be published. The Environment Minister Rebecca Pow recently said in parliament that it will be published in “due course”, changing from recently saying it will arrive “soon”.

A Defra spokesperson however said the scheme will “place more responsibility on businesses to reduce excess packaging and to make items more easily recyclable”.

The spokesperson added: “We have been engagingly closely with manufacturers, retailers, and packaging companies on the final design of the scheme and on delivery plans. We will continue to work with these vital groups to help shape future policy.”

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