In the past few decades, the UK government has relentlessly driven circular economy initiatives. However, these initiatives have not ‘closed the loop’ quite yet. As a result, further legislation has been introduced to protect our climate, drive green growth, reduce unnecessary waste and, most importantly, promote resource efficiency.
Most notably, the Plastic Packaging Tax, which came into effect in April 2022, is one of the first key steps in the government’s ambitious plans to improve waste management. But the plastic waste revolution doesn’t end there! You might have heard through the grapevine that there’s even more legislation on its way that could potentially change the very landscape of the packaging industry. Of course, we’re talking about none other than Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
So, what is extended producer responsibility and how it will potentially affect your business?
What is extended producer responsibility UK?
In a nutshell, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a circular economy initiative that aims to reduce unnecessary waste and keep packaging materials in use for longer. Once EPR is introduced, producers will be fully responsible – financially and, in some cases, physically – for collecting and treating packaging once it becomes waste.
Though, the very idea of producers being liable for handling post-consumer waste is certainly nothing new. In fact, the producer responsibility system first came into effect in UK law nearly three decades ago, in 1997. That being said, there are a few key differences between the current and extended systems.
First of all, the current system works on the principle of collective responsibility. This means that if your business handles at least 50 tonnes of packaging – be it trays, cartons, boxes or even pallets – you only pay a proportion of the cost of recycling packaging by purchasing Packaging Waste Recovery Notes (PRNs).
However, at present, it is extremely difficult for producers to estimate the potential cost of compliance. It’s expected that there will be different rates for different packaging materials and products. In other words, this means that certain packaging materials could have slightly higher taxation based on how recyclable or sustainable they are. This could seriously affect businesses that have not already made the switch to greener solutions.
EPR, on the other hand, works on the principle of individual responsibility. With this in mind, producers will be responsible for the full net cost of handling post-consumer waste. To top things off, producers will be required to use clearer and more consistent labelling regarding how recyclable their packaging is. Believe it or not, not all plastic packaging that makes it onto our shelves is recyclable.
Why is EPR needed?
It’s fair to say that we still don’t know a whole lot about EPR. We don’t know how effective it will be. Nevertheless, tougher plastic waste regulations are needed now more than ever if we want to protect our planet from irreversible CO2 damage, without a shadow of a doubt.
Plastic is almost inescapable. Nearly everywhere you turn there is some form of plastic packaging. If we don’t take action now, by 2040, an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of plastic is destined to go to landfill, or worse, the ocean. The issue is that the UK’s recycling infrastructure has failed to keep pace with the vast amounts of plastic we produce every year.
EPR aims to address this issue by making sure producers take full responsibility for the entire life cycle of packaging – from design all the way through to recycling. Extending life cycles will hopefully decrease the impact plastic packaging has on the environment. Sounds perfect, right? Well, ensuring that producers are fully responsible for their products and packaging may not be simple. We’ll take a deeper look at some of the issues with EPR below.
Is extended producer responsibility effective?
In theory, EPR seems like an effective solution to the plastic problem. However, it’s unlikely that EPR will rectify the market failure of recycling initiatives.
For one thing, the cost of compliance is pretty steep. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) estimate that during the first full year of implementation, producers will have to pay around £2.7 billion – the majority of which will be spent on collecting packaging from businesses. This could financially cripple many businesses, especially those that use packaging that is difficult to recycle. This begs the question of whether EPR actually aligns with circular economy models at all.
EPR offers a very narrow and rigid view of the plastic problem. It only focuses on what happens to plastic once it becomes waste. Instead, EPR should focus on the entire life cycle of packaging and encourage sustainable packaging design.
To an extent, this issue is somewhat addressed through the PPT. It aims to encourage producers to use packaging that contains at least 30% recycled content. However, given that producers will potentially have to pay such hefty costs to comply with both EPR and the PPT, investment in packaging design may dramatically plummet.
On top of that, this could potentially hinder new and necessary innovations in the packaging industry. This ultimately derails rather than excelling the drive for sustainability and change.
How can your business prepare for EPR?
Although the UK government has announced that the EPR will be implemented in a phased manner from 2024, as opposed to 2023, it’s important to get your business prepared before it’s too late.
To help reduce the cost of handling packaging, it’s wise to invest in mono-material packaging. Mono material packaging is much cheaper to recycle, as it’s composed of just one single fibre or material. This means that it requires less energy to recycle packaging, helping you cut back on costs.
At Tyler Packaging, we specialise in designing 100% recyclable packaging. We use mono polymer technology to design and construct mono-material films from a single polymer resin. We continue to work with businesses to create packaging that protects products and catches the consumer’s eye.
Know you know what extended producer responsibility is. Want to find the right sustainable packaging solution for your product? Simply give us a ring on 01926 651451 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to chatting with you soon!