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Packaging Waste Blog - The Ins & Outs

29th January 2019

Gareth Roberts

Our packaging waste blog aims to update you on all the latest developments around the UK packaging waste legislation and the future regulatory changes. Multiple members of the Comply Direct team will be contributing to this blog. 

Change to the current packaging producer responsibility legislation is on the horizon - a summary

Posted: 29 January 2019

Author: Martin Hyde 

The current producer responsibility system for packaging has achieved compliance for around 20 years, however, the system has been under increasing pressure to change to meet a more demanding waste management system which reflects the change of material consumption we have seen over the last two decades. As a result, the regulations are currently undergoing review.

The review process has been further catalysed by the implementation of the Circular Economy Package. This sets out specific requirements for EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) Regulations including a minimum of 80% of the full net costs of collection, sorting, recycling and final disposal of packaging waste generated by producers to be covered by producers themselves.

What we know for certain

The government published its Resource and Waste Strategy towards the end of 2018 (read more about this HERE), and a set of consultations are due to follow. These consultations will cover:

• Setting material recycling targets beyond 2020
• Deposit Return Schemes
• Producer Responsibility (the PRN system) Reform
• Potentially the 30% Recycled Content Tax

Any reform to the producer responsibility system is unlikely to come into effect until the start of 2023.

Producer Responsibility Reform – what might change?

There are various aspects that could change, including a potential full overhaul of the system; these changes can be categorised as follows:

Costs – due to the 80% minimum (the government have indicated they are interested in going beyond minimum requirements) net cost requirement, it is highly likely that the costs of the regulations to a producer will increase post regulatory reform.

Data Requirements – depending on if there is a change to the point of compliance in the system (currently the responsibility is shared) and if a new system requires more detailed data, the data submission requirements will likely increase. This could include a full movement away from the currently used “Data Tables”, but could also add requirements for data reporting on end of life performance.

Modulated Fees – there is a requirement for some form of modulation as part of the Circular Economy Package, whereby producers’ fees are based on the environmental performance of their product’s packaging. This could include Recycled Content, Recyclability, “Litterability”, how easily sorted an item is etc.

Reliance on Exports – the current system has been criticised for its reliance on exporting waste, and it is generally accepted that UK recyclers are at a disadvantage over exporters under the current regulations. This could be reviewed as part of regulatory reform.

External Changes

Environmental legislation changes outside of the producer responsibility regulations could also have an impact on businesses handling packaging:

Taxes – we have already seen Philip Hammond propose a recycled content tax (October 2018) and there is potential for other taxes to be introduced targetting specific items which don’t conform with the current waste management system.

Bans – there is currently an ongoing consultation around the banning of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. Further specific item bans could be on the horizon for “problematic” material.

Levies – due to the success of the plastic bag levy, the public appear drawn to rolling this concept out to other items. The government has made it clear that implementing a levy on coffee cups is not planned at the moment, but this could still be considered for other packaging / products with low performance in the waste management stream.

EU propose single-use plastics directive 

Posted: 13 August 2018

Author: Martin Hyde 

Earlier this year the EU released a proposed directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment which is aimed at reducing the impact of the most common single-use plastic products found in the European seas.

There are 10 items plus fishing gear considered to represent 70% of all marine litter which includes things such as food containers, drinks cups, cotton bud sticks, sanitary items and wrappers. A full list of these items can be found within our more in-depth story about this proposed directive HERE

To minimise the usage of these single-use items, there is a list of proposed measures within the directive, such as:

Plastic ban – Certain products (currently cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and balloon sticks) are proposed to be banned from sale in EU markets when single-use. To clarify, these items would only be banned if they are single-use and composed of plastic.

Container requirements – Single-use plastic drinks containers will only be allowed to continue sale where their caps and lids remain attached post usage.

Labelling - Certain items, for example sanitary products, will be required to display clear and standardised labelling of correct disposal practices.

Again, for a full description of all the measures, please ready our extended news story HERE

The proposal is currently in review, meaning there is no guarantee it will enter EU law in its current manner. Regardless of whether it is written into UK waste legislation, UK businesses selling into EU member states will likely need to comply.

Consumers are already making informed decisions to reduce their usage of single-use plastics items, fuelled by the wide media coverage on the damage plastic waste is causing and some member states have already taken steps which would support this directive; for example - consumer driven change in the UK may lead to single use plastic straws being banned in the upcoming Waste and Resources Strategy.

National Audit Office Report – A few thoughts from Martin our Policy Researcher

Posted: 23 July 2018

Author: Martin Hyde 

We welcome the recent National Audit Office (NAO) report on the UK Packaging Waste Regulations as it should help with reform of the PRN system in the future. It had stirred up more discussion around regulatory reform, however, it is still unclear how satisfied the Environmental Audit Committee actually is with regards to the content / recommendations.  

Free riders

Firstly, the report has highlighted the fact that there are plenty of free riders still operating in the UK who are avoiding compliance despite being obligated. This may be due to ignorance for some but for many it appears to be cost avoidance. Hopefully this report will ensure more targeted enforcement efforts to reduce the number of free riders. The more Producers we have paying into the system the better as we move towards potential cost increases in the coming years on the back of the EU Circular Economy Package.

Waste exports

The report confirms what were already very aware of in terms of the UK being over reliant on exports to overseas countries for the recycling of certain packaging waste materials, especially following China’s decision to ban imports of foreign waste. Whilst alternative overseas destinations have been identified, it now appears that many such destinations (Vietnam, Malaysia etc.) are reducing their appetite for low grade materials in such big volumes. The UK reprocessing industry ultimately needs to step up to the plate but will likely need legislative help to become less reliant on the volatility that comes with exports. We need a robust, closed loop waste industry in the UK that reviews waste as a resource. By implementing Circular Economy processes, we can minimise the volatility and risk of exports whilst increasing demand for secondary production materials.

Data

The report is also clear in stating that there needs to be more robust data. For example, packaging placed on the market, waste arisings in the UK, tonnes recycled etc. This will require the allocation of resources to data accuracy, more verification checks, more regulatory visits and so on. 

Funding

It has been highlighted once again that Local Authorities require more funding to improve the quantity and quality of material collected at from households. There seems to be an increasing consensus that Producers should be providing financial support to make the UK approach closer to true Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

In summary, the NAO report is useful if taken into account within the consultations that we expect to be seeing over the next 12 months. We seek more robust data, fewer errors, more Producers in the system, more regulation and enforcement, less fraud, clear objectives and performance measurement criteria, more sustainable packaging, less reliance on exports, more funding and so on. There is a lot to take into account but hopefully we are now on a path towards improvements in the UK’s approach that will deliver a coherent and multi-faceted UK regulatory system.

We have created a member feedback group focused on changes to the regulations and this provides a further opportunity for our members to let us know their thoughts. Thoughts on the current system and any future amended system. If you are a member of Comply Direct then please do get in touch as we are keen for your ongoing interaction during what will be a prolonged period of consultation.

The future of the UK Packaging Waste Regulations

Posted: 18 June 2018

Author: Gareth Roberts

Since the UK Packaging Waste Regulations were introduced back in 1997, I don’t think there has ever been a more interesting time to be in the packaging waste sector than now. We have packaging waste regularly featuring on mainstream news channels, we have had multiple documentaries on packaging waste, we had the devastating impact of plastic waste being highlighted on Blue Planet 2 and we have politicians now giving this significant attention as the public interest levels are higher than ever for recycling issues. There is also currently a review being carried out by the National Audit Office into the Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) system in the UK. There are concerns that we are over reliant on exporting packaging waste for recycling abroad which results in a vulnerability when overseas countries such as China no longer want certain waste materials that are of a lower quality. I have to say on this front that it is pleasing to see that in 2018 the initial recycling data indicates more is already being recycled in the UK than we have seen in 2017.

There is no doubt that momentum is growing for significant legislative change in the future. I would agree that change is needed but there is absolutely a need for a period of careful consideration and consultation to ensure that we ultimately arrive at a new system that is fit for purpose. To be fit for purpose, it needs to deliver results including higher percentage levels of packaging waste being recycled against higher targets, EU Circular Economy Package (CEP) requirements met, higher levels of material reprocessing in the UK, improved quality of materials and drivers for higher recycling content within packaging.

The risk is that with so many initiatives currently being considered we may end up with a final system that is overly complicated and potentially counterproductive. For me, there is a lot to be said for simplicity. At present there are arguments and view points being put forward for Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) to boost ‘on the go’ recycling levels and litter reduction, taxes on specific single use packaging items, higher landfill taxes, higher energy from waste taxes, possible bans on certain items of packaging items, universal labelling options, tighter regulation etc. I cannot overstate the importance of tight regulation and enforcement in any system to ensure it performs well.

It is very encouraging to read about how industry is responding on a voluntary basis and almost daily we witness a high profile company making a statement or commitment relating to packaging waste initiatives. We are also seeing increasing collaboration within sectors to work on best practise and new solutions for packaging. I am also particularly impressed by the companies that have recently signed up to the UK Plastics Pact which has challenging targets for the signatories to deliver against by 2025. Read our news story about the UK Plastics Pact here 

In terms of the current PRN system, then we should give credit when credit is due as overall it has performed very well for the UK and for UK obligated Producers. It has ensured EU directive recycling targets have been met each year and at very competitive compliance costs for UK producers when comparing to other EU member states. The PRN model is a market based system that drives efficiencies and competitiveness, which for me, such aspects need to be retained in any future legislative model. With the revised Waste Framework Directive backing up Circular Economy article references, going forward, there is a requirement for Producers under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Legislation to meet the full net costs of collection, transport and recycling of packaging waste. There is a big discussion to be had on this in terms of what this cost actually is in reality? How it can be calculated? And, presumably to ensure that the value of packaging materials sold to re-processors / exporters is taken into consideration in any calculations? We also have to consider how it will apply in terms of Producers who don’t handle any packaging that ends up in the household (municipal) waste stream.

As we know, at present, local authorities, via council tax payments, fund the collection and sorting of packaging waste from households (kerbside collections). Local authorities have had funding cuts from central government during the prolonged period of austerity and I am sure all authorities now have the view that they will struggle to further increase packaging recycling levels (which have become quite stagnant in England of late) without significant further funding coming in their direction. It is clear to me that there is a need for more effective and consistent communication on a national level to householders on what can be recycled and on recycling best practice.  

So in summary, there will be changes, significant changes, but it will take time to fully implement all the change and the end result will almost certainly be higher annual costs for UK Producers than they have experienced so far. Hopefully in return for their investment, we will arrive at an efficient and effective new system that really delivers and makes the UK a world leader in its approach to packaging waste. It may be that we see some more minor changes coming through for 2019 such as the de-minimus Producer obligation threshold being lowered to bring more funds into the system, but I expect the major changes not arriving until possibly 2021. When the big changes come, then Producers (our customers), want value for money and a system that is fair and results orientated. I can personally promise our Producer members that we will continue to fully engage with them in the coming months and years so that their interests are represented and ultimately fully considered by DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) who will make the final call on future legislation.