Extended Producer Responsibility: Why the can’ts mean won’t
By Josh Corradi-Remi, Commerical Manager at Ecoveritas
Whatever happened to the now rarely deployed adage, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure?
Every thread you pull in the fabric of everyday life shows you something new about the intricate patterns of the teeming landscape we call our world. And as Antarctic Ocean currents head for collapse, do we have such little regard for what we’re playing with?
While we ignore siren voices, as tempting as it is to put this nightmare out of our minds, the challenge we now face is to sustain our fragile hold on life. Our fate is in our own hands.
READ MORE: Using EPR to create stories that matter. Sustainability is often the sum of many obvious thoughts and simple actions, resulting in a powerful and largely positive impact. It is spotting these actions that Ecoveritas, or more specifically, data, can help with.
People, the planet and profit-seekers
The question that arises more than most is, ‘How can businesses balance the circular economy while running a traditional business and keep their customers in the bargain?’
Unfortunately, moments of affirmation are a rarity in sustainable packaging. And this transition to sustainability is incredibly difficult to do when you look at it through a purely capitalist lens. Especially when it’s a new concept to a business. The best way to balance sustainability with traditional business is to look at it from a conscious capitalist perspective – operating ethically while pursuing profits.
Understanding ‘why’ is the north star of any business about to embark on this journey. Sustainable workplaces are built on discipline and strong data just as much as raw ambition.
Sustainability is about having good intentions backed by well-informed, diligent actions. Thankfully the carefully crafted tools and well-honed expertise we offer more than occupy that space in many organisations.
We know that a smart, strong recycling policy like EPR can provide the resources needed to bring necessary change to recycling infrastructure and move us closer to a circular economy. It can provide a sustainable funding source for our recycling systems and make them more efficient. And it is good for a business’s bottom line. It’s a shame everyone isn’t open to this necessary fix.
Change is scary. But this is so sorely needed to move forward. So, it’s time we stopped the fearmongering and got it done.
Seeing Aldi CEO Giles Hurley recently stick his head above the parapet and speak up on environmental legislation was heartening. The retail sector has responded slowly to climate change, but having now played a part in its perpetuation, it can now help absorb its impact.
A revolution is on the horizon, with companies caving to consumer pressure to improve processes and prove that they are adopting sustainable practices. But when you consider the UK’s credibility as a nation working towards any form of sustainability, instances of intervention, such as this from the fourth-largest UK supermarket, are few and far between.
People have debated the merits of recycling from the kitchen table to the editorial pages for decades. Many of the misconceptions are born out of the tug-of-war between brands, retailers and manufacturers in designing packaging that can be recycled, and those who drive the anti-waste agenda and those declaring today’s recycling is fundamentally broken.
So, while many businesses keep reinventing the wheel and trying to devise ways of doing things and doing them badly, the EPR approach has been tried and tested worldwide. Our mission remains to rise above this confusion and advocate for progressive change!
However, there are so many examples of how failure, principally by the government to set common standards and ensure delivery at pace and scale, continues to undermine the rollout of sustainable solutions.
Guiding businesses towards change
What chance do we have when consumers, or the public, will look to some of these businesses for a good experience of the green transition?
The current economic pressures are no doubt causing business issues, and it’s not surprising that eyes may have been diverted elsewhere, but surely, we have come to understand how this plays out.
Why not make your goal full transparency of all materials, processes, partners, and facilities, from materials to finished products? The direction of travel is clear. What have you got to lose?
The incentive for brands is only increasing, but what about the motivation for consumers? We cannot wait for everyone to care, actively prioritise sustainability, and afford the premiums often associated with more environmentally conscious products. We need to aim to make the sustainable product and pack the go-to option regardless of motivation.
Encouragingly many of our clients have started taking steps; some are many miles into the journey, but spending time with these organisations and their committed people shows what can be done.
Wrongfully, some organisations are being vilified for trying to make meaningful changes in the face of rapidly changing regulatory environments, which are becoming increasingly complex. That is where working with a specialist organisation with unrivalled experience comes in. We can help to show you a robust business case for each packaging element you want to change.
READ MORE: Walking wisely. When it comes to tackling the 92 million tonnes of packaging waste in Europe every year, we have very far to go indeed. As a result, making this journey will require truly continuous collaboration and learning.
No more time wasting
Packaging waste is a historical problem that isn’t going to go away. Food packaging from circa 40 years ago regularly washes up on beaches, yet it doesn’t seem to bring about anything near the required step change in thinking.
Further delays to progress on consistency are no surprise but calls for the process to be scrapped are disappointing. Suppose we will go ahead with the ambitious reforms proposed by EPR, shifting the cost burden for collections from Local Authorities to producers (and consumers). In that case, we must have consumer-facing consistency regarding what people can and cannot recycle. Even at the most basic possible level, there is no consistency in bin colour and meaning. The tone for successful optimisation of EPR policy must be so vividly set.
We’ve had everything explained and been offered evidence. We model the future and the changes needed. We have shown the differences and highlighted the delusion of some. But confident changemakers are too few and far between.
So, the next time you buy from a brand, please remember you can dictate to the markets what you will and won’t accept. Remember those that contributed to the troubled journey of EPR policy and actively swam against the tide.
We’re far too quick to forget that humans are successful because we have adapted to an environment we understand only imperfectly. But mired in the predicament of our time, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact we can only kick the can down the road so many times.