Packaging figureheads are concerned the government is placing undue blame at manufacturers’ feet with a new waste strategy that would see them bear the cost of recycling.
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) unveiled its new resources and waste strategy on 18 December, laying out potential policies aimed at reforming policy on packaging waste and mitigating the environmental impact of its disposal.
A headline proposal was to ensure packaging producers pay the “full net costs” of disposal or recycling of the packaging they place in the market. By introducing 'extended producer responsibility' (EPR) packaging producers would be responsible for the full cost.
Defra expects EPR to raise between £500m and £1bn per year for recycling and disposal.
Environment secretary Michael Gove said: “Our strategy sets out how we will go further and faster, to reduce, reuse and recycle. Together we can move away from being a throwaway society, to one that looks at waste as a valuable resource.
“We will cut our reliance on single-use plastics, end confusion over household recycling, tackle the problem of packaging by making polluters pay, and end the economic, environmental and moral scandal that is food waste.”
The new EPR policy was broadly welcomed in the recycling and waste industry, with the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) praising its efforts to “redress the balance” away from using the public purse to pay for recycling measures. Suez Recycling & Recovery also lauded the policy for “outpacing European counterparts”.
Reception within the packaging sector was cooler. Material specialist Prismm Environmental expressed concerns that the increase in cost would impact manufacturers of complex, multi-substrate packaging the hardest. Managing director Mike Jackson called for the promotion of the use of cartonboard to offset the “huge hike in fees” the policy could bring.
BPIF Cartons general manager Jon Clark concurred, warning that the carton and packaging industry “simply cannot afford all the extra costs”.
He said: “Our take is that the cost must be passed through the supply chain, which means everyone including the consumer must take on a share.
“Everyone benefits from a product getting to its point of use, which packaging assists in.
“Cartonboard is already one of the most sustainable, recyclable materials so we will be pushing for further use as there are many products which could revert to carton and eliminate single-use plastics overnight – for instance, garlic bread used to come in carton sleeves.
“Fibre-based packaging is already 80%-84% recyclable and we must make sure this policy does not abrogate responsibility from local authorities and pass the whole thing onto manufacturers as then there will be no incentive to improve collections and other recycling measures – this is about everyone taking a share of the load.”
Clark said BPIF Cartons will work with the Packaging Federation when Defra turns over the strategy for consultation, lobbying for consideration for packaging manufacturers.
Federation chief executive Dick Searle expressed concern over a current lack of clarity in the government’s communications, particularly the lack of clear definition for what constitutes a ‘packaging producer’.
He said: “In most European territories, a ‘packaging producer’ is the packer or filler that buys the packaging and then pack their products in them. It seems to me that there has been a misconception as to whether packaging manufacturers are included by Defra.
“In the UK, costs are currently split across material manufacturers, packaging manufacturers, packers and retailers, but nobody knows how Defra is going to interpret the term in its new policy – the devil will be in the detail.
“Commercial logic dictates that the cost must be passed onto consumers as the industry does not have a pot of £1bn sitting around, but there is also a question about whether the money will be used transparently to improve recycling infrastructure in the UK.”
Defra's proposals also include extending its producer responsibility scheme for hard-to-recycle items such as cars, electronics and batteries to include textiles, fishing gear, tyres and construction waste. It will also look into weekly food waste collections and a consistent ‘core’ set of recyclable materials to be collected by local authorities.
The strategy is expected to open up to consultation in early 2019 and will run alongside the government’s 25-year environment plan.