The best thinking is re-thinking

The best thinking is re-thinking

By Sandy Dhesi, Commercial Manager at Ecoveritas

We are at a critical juncture in our history. We are at the precipice of junking the status quo and implementing once-in-a-generation reforms. This year will see a key manifesto ushered in with Extended Producer Responsibility, presenting an intriguing and radically different philosophy of environmentalism.

The challenges we face are enormous, but so is the influence we have. We can create positive change on behalf of future generations.

It’s time to turn the cycle from take-make-waste to make-waste-make.

The freedom to explore and exchange – whether it’s goods, ideas or people – has led to stunning achievements in science, technology and culture.

We must continue to be daring, and provide clarity, insight and imagination.

And businesses like ours exist as a vital resource for those looking to understand how to connect materials with manufacturing and the means of distribution and consumption.

Our range of tools and expertise activates incisive analysis and minimises the environmental impact of packaging. We help companies harness the power of knowing what they don’t know when it comes to environmental compliance data.

Progress NOT perfection

When we address problems in a realistic solutions-orientated way, we can be an impressive species. The moon landing was only 66 years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight (1903-1969). Within a lifetime, humans went from having limited flight tech to travelling 239,000 miles from Earth.

Applying this approach to other sectors could help define the next era of human progress.

We are living in the golden age of packaging. There is a broader array of options and more consumer demand than at any other time in history. But as with anything else, all that glitters isn’t necessarily gold; some of that glittering is discarded plastics and other packaging materials piling up in your local landfill.

Accountability is crucial, and that’s where improved reporting processes come in. Most companies didn’t even know how much they were putting on the market.

Now we are redefining how we hold producers accountable for their waste.

Required actions under packaging Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) finally began in January 2023, over four years after it was announced by the government in the Resources and Waste Strategy for England by Michael Gove and his team.

You’d think that organisations likely to be impacted by this critical reform should be well aware by now if they are affected and what it means to them, with plans in place to report more granular and frequent packaging data than ever before.

However, it is apparent that most packaging producers impacted by the new packaging regulations are at best confused and at worst completely oblivious to what’s coming their way.

Looking around in awareness

Reduce, reuse, and recycle is the standard cradle-to-grave manufacturing model dating back to the Industrial Revolution that we still follow today. Extended Producer Responsibility proposes that instead of minimising waste, we should strive to create value. This is the essence of Cradle to Cradle: waste need not exist at all.

As natural resources dwindle, designers are exploring the potential of increasingly plentiful waste streams to become the raw materials of the future.

In the past, the design industry has often struggled to properly embrace sustainability, with some viewing it as a cumbersome add-on to true innovation. The old ‘throw-away’ model of packaging production is still dominant, and technologies are still being designed without considering the need for recovery.

Recycling levels in the UK have plateaued at around 44%. Collections systems are often inconsistent and unclear.

EPR has proven to be one of the most efficient and effective ways of tackling our waste problem. It provides the ongoing and sufficient funding scheme we need when designed correctly. It drives proper environmental outcomes by putting money into the right places; money that’s raised in the system stays in the system.

And that’s welcome news given that a reported additional cost of approximately £1.2 billion of investment in around 30 materials recycling facilities (MRFs) will be required to meet the government’s recycling target of 65% by 2035.

Better still, this can be achieved using existing, proven technologies and processes, and there is a vibrant, competitive, skilled sector with access to the capital to make this happen. What’s more, society supports this drive.

The next few months will be crucial for our industry to get the packaging producers community up to speed with Defra’s EPR guidance, fully ready and willing to embrace the first EPR submission for large organisations in October 2023.

With the packaging EPR threshold reduced to half that of the previous regulations in terms of annual turnover and tonnage of packaging handled, small organisations currently out of scope of the old packaging regulations system will have to start collecting packaging data from January 2023, ready to register and submit their data in 2024.

Even businesses under the threshold will have to comply with mandatory labelling requirements from 2026 to inform consumers about the recyclability of their packaging.

Winning slowly is the same as losing

We stand on the cusp of losing the race for the environment. And if we do, we will all live to wish we were back at this moment and to have done something different. It’s hard to think our way into that, but that is what the scientists are doing.

We’re now on the verge of a regulatory environment that offers clarity, consistency and confidence in relation to achieving end-of-waste (EoW) status is essential if we are to maintain the investment and innovation we’ve seen across our sector.

However, we are a lot closer than people think. We used to say that the solutions would be more economical one day than your current technology, and that day is now here. The solutions to moving us through this cost-of-living crisis are accelerating the transition to green energy and business and embracing technologies we have spent so long developing and getting us to this point.

And the big leap is about to be made, which will require courage and commitment, but this is a great generational endeavour that we can deliver.

The packaging supply chain should expect EPR to go full steam ahead. Businesses can now get a sense of how to plan ahead and what regulations will dictate packaging design. But there is another factor that has focused minds in 2022 and will do so again this year.

Despite a backdrop of uncertainty, the packaging industry has continued to innovate, create and try things that could make an impact in the future. With brands and retailers showing no signs of relaxing their sustainable targets, it’s been up to packaging specialists to respond – and they have done just that.

Raising awareness of Extended Producer Responsibility to all packaging businesses, from small producers to large multinational organisations is now critical, for this long-awaited and needed reform to succeed in accelerating the country’s movement towards a circular economy.

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