Industry responds to Defra’s views on Extended Producer Responsibility consultation

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Stakeholders from the recycling industry have responded to the publication of the Government’s response to the views shared in the Extended Producer Responsibility consultation and a new one on PRN/PERN reform.

In its original response to the Consultation, The Recycling Association had criticised the proposals on business waste for looking to fundamentally change the way these materials were collected. It warned that the original proposals could have put some of its Member companies out of business.

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The Recycling Association chief executive Simon Ellin said: “Our Members will be breathing a sigh of relief this morning that their businesses and the jobs they create would not be ended by Government policy.

“The decision to set up a taskforce to look at how business waste collection can be funded by EPR is a sensible one, and a timescale of up to 2026/7 gives plenty of opportunity to come up with good proposals that work in the interests of recycling and waste businesses, producers, retailers and other stakeholders. 

“Business waste collections work well, and only need slight improvements to continue to work effectively. This will be the position of The Recycling Association and one we will advocate via the taskforce.

“We also welcome that the PRN/PERN system will stay in place until at least this date, as it gives some certainty to our Members. It is a system that largely works, but we agree with the need for reform to remove the fraudulent operators that have undermined the system.

“For those that export, the proposals look like ones we can work with. It remains disappointing that there is no aim to introduce maximum contamination limits so that exporters know the criteria to operate legally, rather than the uncertainty we have now.

“However, we support the idea of the UK moving to end-of-waste for fibre and we hope that this can be incorporated into EPR.

“I’m also pleased to see that the Scheme Administrator will be a public body. This reduces the risk that it will be influenced by one particular sector, but is likely to take into account the needs of all stakeholders. 

“Overall, I’m pleased to see that Defra has recognised the strengths of its original EPR proposals, but also addressed many of the weaknesses. 

“However, with the Consistency of Collections and Deposit Return Scheme responses not published yet, the devil will be in the detail when it comes to the overall bigger picture.

“EPR has the potential to transform the recycling sector for the better, and along with consistency of collections, is likely to lead to the UK producing high quality recyclate. That can only be a positive.”

But local authority recycling officers’ body LARAC had concerns. In a statement it said:

“LARAC is pleased to finally have some clarity on EPR and a few insights into what DRS will look like. While we would have liked responses to the three linked consultations of EPR, DRS and consistent collections to have been published together, to enable councils to be able to plan strategically, this is some progress.

“Business waste collections will not be included at the start of EPR so there will not be any transparency on their collection and processing costs to include in the EPR fees. This questions whether we will we continue to see only general waste bins at business premises with no attempt to recycle, despite the application of the waste hierarchy and separate collection of metals, plastics, paper and glass in England being a legal responsibility since 2011.

“In the two previous rounds of consultations, the collection of non-household municipal (NHM), or business waste, was a key component of achieving a 65% recycling rate for England. The original impact assessment identified 1.4m tonnes of plastic, aluminium, steel, paper/card and glass as being in NHM residual waste by 2023. These potentially recyclable materials will now not be collected until at least 2027 which questions whether the volumes of EPR materials in residual waste collected from households (2m tonnes by 2023) will be sufficient to stimulate the development of UK recycling infrastructure that is so desperately needed.

“Councils will get EPR funding from 2024 and will have to collect film and flexible plastic by March 2027 (only 4% of councils collect these now) but we don’t know what collection system(s) will be legally compliant as there is no information yet on what consistency will be, so we don’t know how the material will be made available to the market. There is insufficient infrastructure in the UK to recycle film and flexibles now, and given the timescale for EPR funding to become available and procurement timescales for councils: is Defra accepting the off-shoring of this waste problem? This approach is experiencing increased shipping costs and diminishing markets resulting in recyclable material ending up in disposal solutions for convenience, which does not sit well with circular economy principles.

“There seems to a be a lack of understanding on how the money flows and how that will affect delivery timescales and measurable change happening. Councils cannot let collection or treatment contracts until they know where the red lines are (consistency) and how much they have to spend (additional burdens and EPR funding) and this is right – councils should not be cavalier with public money. There is not enough clarity to give confidence to councils that they could begin any procurements now.

“From here, the cusp of April 2022, to April 2024 is two years. We are lacking in detailed data to design the payment mechanism or set fee levels, yet local authorities are expected to begin changing their collections and tender contracts in this period of uncertainty. It is hoped that the response to the second consultation on consistent collections is imminent to help provide greater clarity and strategic direction for councils.

“LARAC is pleased to see that some of the ‘wants’ in our response to the second consultation will be taken forward: the scheme administrator to be a single body; the mandated take back of disposable paper cups by retailers; and a single scheme for recycling logos with a ‘can be recycled’ or ‘can’t be recycled’ clear binary message.

“With the focus just being on household collected EPR materials, it means that local councils and their residents will undergo change first. LARAC has always maintained a position that local taxpayers should not be made to cover any funding shortfalls when these new policies are implemented. We remain committed to working with the new scheme administrator to ensure this does not happen.

“The decision not to include business waste in EPR is disappointing as the potential volume of recyclable material in residual waste (3.4m tonnes by 2023) that could be made available is now significantly reduced and it has been stated that making this available was key to achieving the 65% recycling target. This can only delay the development of infrastructure as some investors may decide to wait until EPR is fully implemented across all sectors and the maximum volumes of material are available. Does it also mean that the first set of EPR fees based on the costs of packaging in household waste will see a significant uplift when the costs of packaging in business waste are added to the system?

“While thankful that Defra published the response just before the pre-election period deadline, LARAC feels there are still a number of unclear policy positions and a lack of clarity on how EPR, DRS and consistent collections all fit together.”

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