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Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a strategy to add all of the environmental costs associated with a product throughout the product life cycle to the market price of that product. Therefore, the cost of collecting, reprocessing and recycling food packaging waste will be shifted from consumers onto producers themselves.
According to government estimates, the new laws are predicted to cost the food and drink industry £1.7 billion as it shoulders the economic burden of sustainability.
The new EPR legislation was due to come into effect next year, but DEFRA has announced this will now be delayed until 2024.
A welcome introduction
Despite the significant cost it will add to producers, EPR has been welcomed by key figures in the food and drink industry, as mounting pressure due to the climate crisis nears boiling point.
According to a WRAP spokesperson, “WRAP welcomes the confirmation of the ambitious move to reform the way packaging is managed in the UK. The new extended producer responsibility scheme places the responsibility for the cost of disposal of core packaging items onto the producers – a much-needed shift that the whole packaging supply chain has been calling for.
“EPR will be a powerful incentive to both encourage more eco-design into packaging and kickstart recycling rates; both of which are especially pivotal to tackling plastic pollution and are aligned with the targets of The UK Plastics Pact.”
Max Spiegelberg, chief marketing peep at Greenypeeps Tea agreed: “We believe that the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility is absolutely correct. Our business, Greenypeeps, the ethically-led tea brand, was founded on the belief that brands and businesses must be held accountable to do what is right by the planet and by society.
“A significant piece of this accountability jigsaw is packaging and packaging waste. EPR addresses the issue that businesses simply cannot and must not pass the responsibility on to both the consumer and the local authorities. Instead, businesses must support the consumer by making the right choices for them. This can be through reduction of packaging, reusing materials in packaging, using materials that are less costly to the environment or supporting and promoting behavioural change to minimise single-use packaging.”
The challenge for producers
EPR is set to be a huge wake-up call for producers, as Max argues that too many food and drink brands focus on product and profit rather than environmental costs. “Too few challenge themselves to do what is right for the planet. EPR is designed to shake the consumables tree and encourage business to place responsible packaging higher up the boardroom agenda.
“We need to be creative and forward-thinking about how we package things. At Greenypeeps we ask ourselves each quarter ‘is this the best we can do for the product and for the planet’. EPR is going to force producers to address ‘the planet’ issue by impacting profit.
“The challenge is to make this additional cost structure or tax (call it what you will) fair for all involved. There are many ways to skin a cat (or wrap a banana). Recycled materials are great but prohibitively expensive for many low-value consumables, recyclable materials are designed to keep non-biodegradable materials out of landfill but that relies on the consumer, and biodegradable, home compostable materials will not harm their environment but their production can be more energy-intensive than that used in the recycling process. Each has its own merits and demerits.”
Too little, too late?
Despite significant praise for its introduction, the UK government has decided to delay the legislation until 2024. This month, DEFRA revealed that the reason behind the delay was that stakeholders responding to the public consultation on the proposals said they would not have enough time to prepare for the changes.
WRAP sympathised with the huge task of implementing EPR, stating: “We understand that delays in implementing these packaging reforms are frustrating, but the reforms are far-reaching, and it is essential that they are done right to bring about the change that is needed.”
However, environmental groups argue this delay is a huge disappointment with time rapidly running out to change the future. Sian Sutherland, chief changemaker at A Plastic Planet explained: “It’s absolutely right that producers will bear the cost of the waste they are responsible for. But why do we have to wait so long to see this happen?
“Yet again this is a watered-down, snail of a plan that will have no real teeth or impact until 2024. Somehow the reality of the UN Global Plastics Agreement has given us the excuse to slow down, when it should have been a massive incentive for rapid innovation and system change. Producer responsibility will finally take the onus off the consumer and place it firmly on the shoulders of the actual makers. We need real producer responsibility to happen within months not years.”