Packaging and packaging waste: introducing Extended Producer Responsibility

The consultation

Running from 24 March to 4th June 2021, government and the devolved administrations consulted on their proposals for introducing an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme in the UK, thus reforming the existing system.  Under the proposals, packaging producers will pay the full cost of managing packaging once it becomes waste.  This will encourage producers to use less packaging and use more recyclable materials, reducing the amount of hard to recycle packaging placed on the market.

The REA responded to this consultation, our aims including that:

  1. the reformed system would comprehensively includes compostable packaging,
  2. modulated fees applicable to this kind of packaging would be set such that biowaste treatment facility operators – those registered  as ‘reprocessors’ under the EPR system – receive income that covers the full net costs of recovering or recycling (i.e. biodegrading) this kind of packaging, and
  3. a proportion of income to the reformed system would be directed towards info/education/behaviour change resources and communications on which packaging is suitable and which other packaging is not suitable for putting into food waste bins.

We also considered whether the reformed system should include bin liners and kitchen caddie liners (these product formats are not currently defined as packaging) and if yes, how it should distinguish between compostable and non-compostable versions and what other aspects of system redesign would be needed.


REA’s response

The REA submitted its response to this consultation on 4th June 2021.


Government’s response

On 26th March 2022 government and the devolved administrations published their response to this consultation and a summary of the responses they received.

The new system will move the full cost of dealing with packaging waste from households away from local taxpayers and councils to the packaging producers.  For each of the defined types of packaging items within the new system’s scope, government will, from 2025, introduce ‘modulated fees based on recyclability’. ‘Producers will be expected to meet ambitious new recycling targets and use clear unambiguous labelling of recyclability’.

Setting aside the parts of government’s response that are about ‘biodegradable plastic packaging’*, unfortunately they stated ‘further evidence is needed to consider the disposal of compostable packaging via composting under industrial conditions as recycling’, with expectation that the ‘infrastructure’ also needs to be improved.  They also said independent evidence would need to include ‘evidence of the benefit to soils and land obtained by incorporating compostable packaging into compost or digestate’.

(*REA highlights it must not be assumed all ‘biodegradable’ packaging, and non-packaging, products are also compostable.  Some of them are only biodegradable in a natural environment or managed biological system not relevant to composting while others are both compostable and biodegradable in a natural environment or managed biological system that isn’t composting.)

Their current view is that compostable (and biodegradable) packaging must be labelled ‘do not recycle’. Taking account of government’s intended ‘recycle’ or ‘do not recycle’ 31 March 2027 deadline for ‘plastic films and flexibles’ and 31 March 2026 deadline for other packaging, it may be that the range of compostable item types would be subject to these separate deadlines, according to whether the particular item is rigid, film or flexible.’

REA is considering next steps to take, as further independent evidence would be needed to achieve a positive shift in government plans for compostable packaging within the EPR system, the incorporation of compostable packaging into compost is not an appropriate practice, and any incorporation of such packaging into separated fibre digestate would only be done if that mixture were to subsequently be composted as per permit requirements, Animal By-Product Regulations if the compostable packaging had been in contact with any ABPs and, if also chosen by the operator, End of Waste rules.


Introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme

Government for England, Wales and Northern Ireland also consulted, from 24th March to 4th June 2021 on introducing a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS).  They envisaged it would aim to increase the recycling rate of drinks containers and reduce littering and help change consumer behaviour to encourage higher levels of drinks container recycling.  The REA did not respond to this consultation.

Members with questions on EPR or compostables topics can contact the REA here.