Environmental data is a team sport, and the packaging industry can’t afford to drop the ball

Environmental data is a team sport, and the packaging industry can’t afford to drop the ball

Consensus in this day and age is a rare thing. And the strength of the consensus around climate change is bordering on utterly unique.

Businesses, governments, activists, and consumers all broadly agree that sterner action needs to be taken to secure the future of our planet, and that tackling plastic pollution should be central to that action. The planets have aligned, and the packaging industry has been presented with an open goal, but it still seems to be struggling to put the ball in the net.

As the recent delay of EPR fees shows, what should be relatively straightforward policies are getting caught up in a morass of minute details and political dithering, disintegrating before they are even implemented. The government seems to be saying one thing while doing another, backsliding on a host of environmental pledges, but the delay does come with a silver lining – one that brings the potential to create real, lasting change.

READ MORE: How do you shepherd through change? Dream big. Start small. But most of all, START. This has been our simple message concerning the protracted rollout of Extended Producer Responsibility.

Perfect is the enemy of good

The silver lining is that the delay has given the packaging industry the chance to properly get its ducks in a row when it comes to EPR. While the fee aspect of the reform has been shelved until 2025, the data collection requirements have not. This means the industry can still come together and develop an efficient way of processing packaging data of a greater quality and quantity; data that will help the consensus on climate change evolve into considered action.

We also have the current mess as an example of what not to do. The phrase ‘perfect is the enemy of good’ springs to mind. ‘Design by committee’ is another. Too many stakeholders with conflicting priorities have turned packaging data collection into a muddle, resulting in the current dual reporting system that pleases nobody.

Businesses now have to collect data under the existing PRN system and the EPR system. Defra doesn’t really have the will to enforce it. And consumers will have to wait at least another 18 months before the changes they want to see start filtering through to store shelves.

It doesn’t have to be that way. By treating packaging data as a team sport, the industry can coalesce around new practices and processes, and properly adapt to the new way of working. The industry can then embrace change on its own terms and work with regulators to develop a viable set of reforms that simply work.

READ MORE: Unlocking greatness by working on the hard things. Every day we make decisions: about the things we buy or the meals we eat, about the investments we make and the time we spend, about our health and that of the planet. Unfortunately, we often choose badly.

Getting it over the line

Reforming something as fundamental to modern society as packaging was never going to deliver perfect results the first time. It will require refinements achieved through good faith engagement from all stakeholders if it is to overcome any inevitable teething trouble. But it can never get to that stage if its rollout remains stuck in a quagmire of uncertainty. For now, good enough will do.

It is not necessarily in the government’s interest to provide answers to the many unanswered questions surrounding EPR at this stage. Politicos will note that we will have an election between now and the scheduled fee rollout, which itself brings another layer of uncertainty. Who knows what the political parties will put in their manifestos? Who will be in the hot seat at Defra, and what will their priorities be?

The packaging industry can cut through this uncertainty itself by using the parts of EPR that are now law – the data collection requirements – as a springboard to develop and identify new efficiencies in its supply chains.

Packaging producers have the opportunity to make their voice heard, and to gain a seat at the table as Defra rethinks its rollout of EPR. They can seize that opportunity and use data to drive evidence-based change in both the packaging and recycling industries – but only through cooperation.

In our recent interview with Thomas Lindquist – the father of EPR and a senior lecturer at The International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics – he stressed that successful implementations of packaging reform involved industry representatives who were willing to act as a driving force behind the changes.

This delay must act as a wake-up call to the industry at large. Trying to water down or cut EPR leads to suboptimal outcomes for us all – and for the future of our planet. But if the industry can work together to prepare, share knowledge, and refine the implantation of EPR to make it as good as possible for as many different parties as possible.

Dropping the ball on this legislation helps no one and misses a vital chance to secure a brighter future for our planet. By embracing detailed, accurate live packaging data, the industry can take control of its own destiny and be the hero in a story where it is so often painted as the villain.


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