What Is A “Joined-Up Approach” To EPR Legislation?

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) expert, Robbie Staniforth, Policy Manager at Ecosurety, looks at the how the impending legislative changes resulting from the Resources and Waste Strategy may shake out.

In my discussions with government over the last six months, I’ve been heartened to hear the phrase “joined-up approach” every so often. Civil servants seem genuine in their desire to improve the legislative framework of the country without making it overly burdensome for UK plc.

I remember looking at the harmonisation of EPR back in 2013 as part of Defra’s coherence review, where twenty separate issues were considered. With so many of our members operating across multiple regimes (packaging, WEEE and batteries), they were and remain bemused by the seemingly pointless differences between regulations.

Sadly, it lost momentum and not a great deal of change resulted from the review the logic remains the same today as it did back then: there should be standard principles that apply evenly across all EPR regimes in the UK, with bespoke features only applied when the nuances of a given product’s life-cycle requires it.

Fundamentally we need to get the principles of EPR right. If we don’t it will have repercussions for the next decade of waste policy.

Applying standard principles to the EPR regime is not the only dimension to the “joined-up approach” required in the Resource & Waste Strategy. There are other policy measures in the offing which may not be specifically EPR in nature but are still intrinsically linked to the country’s resource performance too.

The Treasury’s recent announcement on a proposed plastics tax seeks to stimulate the use of plastics with more recycled-content. However, this proposal needs to be carefully considered in conjunction with the recyclability of products in the fee modulation of a new packaging EPR regime.

For example, food-grade packaging may attract a high level of tax, due to the difficulty of including recycled-content, but it should therefore have a low modulated fee if it can be widely recycled into other products. The circular economy is not solely about closed-loop solutions. Therefore, we should not create closed-minded policy. Fortunately, the plastics tax is yet to be consulted on so there is still time for it to be included in Defra’s Resource & Waste Strategy consultation, rather than a separate document.

It is at the “principles” level that the government needs to be both cautious and clear. Any specific changes they make to improve the performance of packaging recycling will need to give more than a mere cursory nod to the other regimes. For example, the principle of a modulated fee based on what is placed onto the market could easily be adopted across all existing and future EPR regimes.

However, the principle of a modulated fee solely based on recyclability may not be as easy to apply. While recyclable packaging is important – as other features like recycled-content are dealt with by Treasury’s tax – it may not be the most important feature of valour in relation to a batteries or electronic equipment (WEEE) that is being recycled. Other measures, such as, single-use vs multiple-use, may be more effective ways to modulate a fee to improve environmental performance.

I’m sure that the polluter-pays concept will continue to gain traction for other waste streams as the country seeks solutions to reducing waste and increase recycling. The issue of mattresses has not gone away since my days contemplating it at IKEA a decade ago. The lifetime of a tyre seems to be getting shorter, not longer. The advent of vaporisers hasn’t made cigarette stubs disappear.

Fundamentally we need to get the principles of EPR right. If we don’t it will have repercussions for the next decade of waste policy. It is encouraging that government want a “joined-up approach” to legislation – let’s just make sure we join it up correctly.

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