Making EPR Work Well

There has been much talk in the waste industry of the increasing role that Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) could play in future legislation. Nigel Harvey, CEO of producer-owned WEEE compliance scheme Recolight, sets out the principles that make a good EPR regime.

Producer Control. It is simple: if producers are to be responsible for collection and treatment, they must also be able to control the costs.

That must include the selection of contractors, contract terms, and all aspects of logistics, sorting, recycling and recovery. There should not be any costs which cannot be negotiated in a competitive market.

Where producers have full financial responsibility, they have a good record of managing costs, implementing efficient operational models, and achieving good environmental outcomes.

Circularity.  In some cases, producers of new equipment may be the organisations that are best placed to reuse or recondition their waste equipment. In addition, as commodity markets tighten over time, they may also want to secure long-term access to raw materials.

For both these reasons, increasing the role that producers play in the collection and recycling of their waste, creates more opportunities for a circular economy based approach.

Furthermore, new circular economy standards are being developed at CENELEC, which may require producers to incorporate a minimum level of recycled content in new products.

If these are made mandatory (either in the EU, or in a post-Brexit UK) the involvement of producers in collection and recycling, via EPR systems, could be an important way to ensure compliance.

National coverage. EPR schemes cannot work in just one part of the UK. A company in Scotland could supply a distributor in England, who in turn supplies a consumer Wales, but the product might finally arise as waste in Northern Ireland.

At Recolight we welcome this development, which would help to enshrine in law many of the concepts in this paper. We have worked with our European trade body, EucoLight, with the objective that article 8a captures many of the best practices in EPR.

Furthermore, to ensure the harmonised approach necessary in a UK-wide system, all key decisions regarding EPR should be handled by central Government, and not by devolved administrations.

Genuinely competitive. It is essential that EPR system design avoids conflicts of interest and market distorting behaviour. For example, operators of EPR schemes frequently have obligations to other stakeholders in the waste chain, particularly operators of household waste recycling centres, which can cause conflicts of interest. Accordingly, EPR legislation should be drafted to eliminate such conflicts.

Realistic targets. EPR systems need collection targets based on reliable evidence of waste flows. They should also consider the economics of collection of waste that may have a positive value by third parties.

Such activities should be estimated, and then deducted from targets set. There should be no need for EPR systems to intervene in such good functioning markets, where EPR should operate as a backstop, if commodity prices or other factors make collections uneconomic.

Good enforcement. Effective enforcement of legislation is always essential to ensure a level playing field, and EPR is no exception. To achieve this, the environment agencies must be adequately resourced. The inclusion of civil sanctions within EPR regimes should be considered as a pragmatic way of driving compliance outside of the formal legal system.

Clear definition of applicable costs. It is vital that EPR legislation makes it crystal clear which costs are to be financed by producers: the so called “bookends” of the system.  For example, does cost responsibility start at the point of aggregation (for example a household waste recycling centre, or waste transfer station)?

Defined responsibilities. Many different stakeholders have a part to play in EPR.  So it is important that legislation clearly defines the responsibilities of the different actors. For example, retailers can offer effective take-back routes via in-store collection and through reverse logistics.

Local authorities are able to provide the means for collecting EPR waste from householders in an economically efficient way.

Minimum requirements for EPR schemes.  The most recent announcements from Defra suggest that the UK is likely to adopt the Commission’s Circular Economy Package, despite Brexit. That means the provisions in draft article 8a, may be transposed into UK law.

At Recolight we welcome this development, which would help to enshrine in law many of the concepts in this paper. We have worked with our European trade body, EucoLight, with the objective that article 8a captures many of the best practices in EPR.


 

Got something to say about this story?