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Tuesday 24th October 2023

In the second of our series of legislative change blogs, we explore the topic of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR for short) and what this will mean for your business. So, let’s dive in……

Metal cans being produced

The packaging problem

Each year, enough packaging waste is thrown away in the UK to fill over 90,000 Olympic swimming pools. However, the cost of dealing with this packaging is lumped on wider society. Nearly all the disposal costs for packaging are paid for, through council taxes and business waste and recycling bills. For households alone, the cost totals around £1.5 billion, or around £70 per household annually. That’s a lot of crisp packets!

The premise of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is to shift the environmental costs associated with a product throughout its lifecycle, directly onto the producer. The 2021 Environment Act applies the principle of EPR to the cost of collection, sorting, and final disposal of all household packaging waste in the UK from 2025. This means that goods producers selling into the UK will be landed with a combined annual bill of £1.5 billion to fund household packaging waste collections.

This is a significant pot to help the UK’s 400 or so local authorities deal with the cost of packaging waste collection and disposal.

Due to the complexities and sums of money involved, there is a lot of work being undertaken by the government to try and develop a fair system on how this will all work. For now, DEFRA has decided that the EPR principle will not apply to business waste collection costs, meaning that Recorra customers will not be directly impacted. This decision was made based on the extremely complicated task of making EPR payments work for the well over 1 million businesses in the UK. However, there will be a review of this position in 2027/2028.

Within the detailed EPR rules, there are some changes which will impact business recycling, these include:

  • The introduction of mandatory take-back schemes for paper cups (i.e. the common coffee cup)
  • Recyclability labelling
  • Incentives to make packaging easier to recycle.

But how will these changes impact Recorra customers?

Cup Take-Back Schemes

Within the EPR framework, the most important change for many of our customers are rules around the compulsory take-back of paper-based cups. This will impact sellers of paper cups (e.g., coffee shops, cafes, in-office canteens) with ten or more staff, and is expected to be in force in 2025.

Sellers will have to provide a separate recycling bin for coffee cups and will be required to report to the regulators - the weight of the cups sold, what’s collected, and what’s recycled. The exact definition of a “seller” hasn’t been confirmed, however any site generating large volumes of cups should work on the basis they will be included within the scheme. Segregating paper cups is also regarded as best practice, especially for large coffee retailers. You can implement your coffee cup recycling service today, so you’re all set for the change.

We’re awaiting further clarifications on government plans and will keep you updated once we know more.

Recyclability Labelling

Confused by packaging recycling labelling? So are we!

There is currently no consistent labelling on UK packaging of what you can and can’t recycle. The EPR regulations are set to provide universally understandable labelling (hooray!). From 2027, one of the following two labels will have to be used on each packaging item to identify whether an item is recyclable or not.

Recycling signage

This should act as a simple guide for all and help and getting items into the correct bins. We’ve recently undertaken a project with the University of Sheffield’s Behaviour Change Team, which has shown that clear labelling positively impacts recycling behaviours and aids segregation. We see this simple, clear, and mandatory system as good news!

Incentives to make packaging easier to recycle

Today, if you walk into a shop to buy milk, you will find cartons with coloured caps in blue, green, and red. These coloured caps require separating from the clear bottle bases to recycle as coloured plastic can only be used to make black plastic unless they are again sorted by colour. This demonstrates how packaging unnecessarily complicates the recycling process. Under EPR, all packaging will be formally assessed for ease of recyclability. Packaging that is more difficult to process will receive a higher charge.

Milk Cartons

Producers have already begun introducing changes in anticipation of this, such as uncoloured milk bottle caps that can be recycled uniformly with milk bottles; helping reduce their coming charges.

Preparations for the EPR framework are already making a difference in packaging production and design. The industry expects to see a gradual phase-out of hard-to-recycle packaging, resulting in lower bills and greater recycling rates.

What’s next?

The EPR framework will be implemented over the next few years, giving those affected by the reforms a useful adjustment period. Just from the impending legislation, we’re already seeing positive changes in producer behaviour, such as making products more easily recyclable. Overall, in passing responsibility to producers as polluters, we hope the EPR waste reforms will translate into higher environmental standards in product and packaging design. Whilst the detail might appear complicated, we see these changes as a positive step in improving the recyclability of packaging or reducing it altogether!

Want to find out more? Check out last weeks blog here.

Emily Mockridge

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