EPR: let’s now make it work

1 April 2022

This week the UK Government and Devolved Administrations unveiled landmark reforms to the way packaging is managed. The new extended producer responsibility (EPR) regime will ensure that the total cost of packaging, from design to disposal, are met; a move which has the potential to encourage eco-design and drive up recycling rates; especially for plastic packaging. Here WRAP CEO Marcus Gover reflects on the impact on the resources and waste landscape and focuses on next steps.

It was four years ago when WRAP was asked by the then Environment Secretary Michael Gove to convene (with INCPEN and Defra’s Advisory Committee on Packaging) a summit of stakeholders from across the UK packaging supply chain.

We had one clear aim: to explore how regulatory reform could help to reduce the environmental impact caused from how we use and dispose of packaging, and especially to the respond to the crisis of plastic pollution.

A clear consensus emerged: businesses recognised the need to reform the current regime and were ready to pay more into a well-designed system as long as it was geared to the following outcomes:

  • Achieving better packaging design
  • Making it easier for people to recycle, whether at home, at work, and on-the-go
  • Achieving higher quality, consistent collections
  • Encouraging UK reprocessing through quality materials
  • Creating markets with strong demand for recycled content

This week those first seeds of reform came to fruition with the confirmation of the introduction of an extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme for packaging. As hoped, it is an ambitious and wide-reaching set of measures. This is underpinned by the principle that from now on the ‘polluter pays’ the full costs of the packaging they place on the market including for disposal.

Does the package outlined this week loop back to those original recommendations?

On the whole, yes. The perfect storm that had erupted around the plastic pollution crisis meant the moment was ripe for radical reform. EPR will be a powerful incentive to both encourage more eco-design into packaging and kickstart recycling rates.

EPR is a key lever in The UK Plastics Pact and will help drive progress towards the Pact’s targets. We had designed the Pact with the expectation that it would work hand in hand with well-designed government policy and are pleased to see the alignment.

We need to ensure that the delay in implementation it not a reason for members to slow down. In reality, many members had seen the Pact as a mechanism to make changes ahead of EPR kicking in and this will continue.

EPR is one of a package of measures outlined in the UK Government’s Strategy to transform the landscape for how we manage resources and waste in the future. We are keen to see the responses to the consistent collections package for England and the plans for a deposit return scheme to ensure they will work harmoniously. Local authorities are telling us they need this clarity before they can introduce significant changes.

We are pleased that the Recycle Now ‘Swoosh’ label/logo will form part of the mandatory labelling scheme so that the all-important simplifying of labels into a binary ‘can or cannot’ be recycled can be achieved for consumers. Recycle Now is one WRAPs flagship consumer campaigns and has existed for nearly twenty years and is a household name, with the logo on thousands of products sold throughout the UK, so it was a logical step to cement that recognition among the public. Part of that success can be attributed to WRAP’s long-standing relationship with the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) who has helped to ensure the swoosh already appears on many products.

Next steps for WRAP:

  • Working with UK Plastics Pact members to understand the implications for the Pact and its ambitious targets; to ensure work is aligned with the EPR implementation plan and is achievable
  • Further supporting local authorities to get them ready for the significant changes ahead
  • Continuing discussions with Defra, and in Wales and Northern Ireland and Scotland so they understand the role that that WRAP can play in supporting a successful roll-out of EPR, and continuing to support their respective blueprints for consistent collection schemes
  • Providing the best possible data and benchmarking to support fair funding and fee models

Let’s get started:

There is still work to be done and Defra has taken a sensible approach in factoring in extra time to explore some of the more the complex issues like how to deal with business waste.

Ultimately, though, all of us with a stake in this agenda now have a responsibility to continue to engage. We have an important role to play in making the design is the best and to ensure EPR, and all the measures in the Resources and Waste Strategy, are used as tools to transform the landscape for our industry.