Ecoveritas expert Illingworth bemoans ‘bittersweet’ delays to Extended Producer Responsibility rollout

Ecoveritas expert Illingworth bemoans ‘bittersweet’ delays to Extended Producer Responsibility rollout

Leading environmental compliance data specialist Ecoveritas has warned that Defra’s decision to defer Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging fees until October 2025 is unfortunate but much-needed due to a lack of clarity for businesses on cost.

It has been a tumultuous few weeks for the landmark policy, with incessant lobbying from producer associations. Still, today’s announcement – which does provide some much-needed clarity – confirms what many suspected would be the case, and pushes back the main part of EPR after the 2024 election, potentially adding more delays.

“When it comes to EPR, the direction of travel is clear,” said Head of Sustainability & Consulting, Kathy Illingworth. “But it has continually struggled to find the appropriate governmental in-tray and, for an ambitious reform, there were just too many missing pieces, and far too many detractors to push on.

“It’s bittersweet. This pause for thought should allow Defra to build in more clarity, but there is certainly a job to be done to rebuild confidence. At the same time, all eyes will be on the industry now, who, having gotten the delay they wanted, should rally around a good policy for the planet and the environment. Perhaps the government can now make progress on the consistency of collection by local authorities, which will be essential if EPR is to be the effective policy we know it can be.

“What is clear is that there were major question marks over the scheme’s readiness and a real lack of confidence. We must now prioritise agreeing and setting the fees this summer so that affected companies can plan for these additional costs.

“Despite the further delay and the risk that the scheme’s implementation is lost in the run-up to the election, Ecoveritas stands ready to work with government and industry to design an EPR scheme that delivers a high level of recycling and effectively tackles packaging waste.”

In the interim, and despite delays being attributed to concerns about increasing costs for consumers, the public will continue to bear the cost of packaging recycling and disposal, with investment in recycling infrastructure likely harder due to a loss of confidence in the legislative framework.

Illingworth, though, is hopeful that the damage done to any remaining ambition isn’t terminal and points to the fact that companies should now be collecting the data outlined in The Packaging Waste (Data Reporting) (England) Regulations 2023, which came into effect on 28 February 2023, as an indictment of progress.

“You have got to wonder how already squeezed council budgets are to build the local system that best meets the needs of their local area,” added Illingworth. “Still, the good news is that the data reporting legislation has become law, and the requirements remain as it is, so at least the government can more accurately assess the amount of packaging placed onto the market in 2023 and 2024 before introducing new fees.

“It now throws up all sorts of unanswered questions about how PRN payments in 2024 will work, whether we will have to report under the old packaging waste rules and whether PRN obligations will be based on that.

“Inevitably, there are suspicions the full strategy might never happen. But any failure to achieve a UK-wide reform of waste and recycling services within a reasonable time scale would be a case study of back-sliding, incompetence, and political amnesia.

“EPR has been five years in the making, and the level of innovation and the pace of change from packaging manufacturers is impressive. Many positive steps have already been taken.

“Many packaging manufacturers will have put a lot of thought into designing something that will hit EPR requirements, particularly where different players in the packaging chain have different responsibilities.

“Our focus is helping businesses get their data ready. Businesses have already put time, energy, and resources into preparing. We now must ensure it’s realistic and give producers all the information they need – and resist continuously changing it.”

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