Comply Direct's MD Gareth Roberts spent two days at the RWM exhibition in Birmingham on 11 and 12 September and below he provides a personal insight into the event, discusses the possible Deposit Return Scheme and developments regarding the future reform of our current packaging legislation.
"I am currently sat on the train on my way back from the NEC having spent two days at the annual RWM exhibition. This recycling and waste management event has been condensed to two days having previously been over three days. I think the jury is out as to whether this has worked out for the better but my feeling is that overall it is a positive move and that attendance numbers each day were decent.
Rather than aimlessly walking around the show without a plan (as I have done in the past), this time I had put quite a bit of planning into my visit and had lined up a number of meetings with customers and suppliers. All my meetings were very positive which is great. I also hand-picked a number of the seminars to attend over the two days including one panel debate on a possible Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for beverage containers. The conclusion I personally arrived at following the discussions is that an ‘on the go’ style DRS model to target certain beverage containers/materials is pretty much a non-starter. Therefore, if DRS is to go ahead, we are really looking at an all or nothing DRS model that will be all encompassing for beverage containers and will, as a result, negatively impact the efforts of local authorities in terms of their existing kerbside collections. The Scottish government consultation on DRS ends in two weeks and I am sure the people responsible for England and Wales (I would say Northern Ireland too but I am not sure much is happening on that front at present) will learn a lot from our Scottish friends prior to launching their own consultations on DRS models. For me, the key will be that if DRS is going to be introduced, to ensure that it is nicely integrated within the wider related legislative landscape and that all of the UK (devolved governments) go for the same consistent model.
Anyway, my main interest over the two days has been in relation to picking up on any developments regarding the future reform of our current packaging legislation. Without wanting to state the obvious (I will do anyway), we currently have the PRN system in the UK for packaging compliance. The PRN model has certainly come under a lot of criticism over the last year or so by multiple parties and stakeholder groups. It has also come under scrutiny by the National Audit Office on behalf of the Environmental Steering Committee. Through various discussions, debates and through listening to numerous speakers at the event (LARAC, INCPEN, Defra, Suez etc.) it became very evident to me that not many brave souls seemed to want to speak up on behalf of the PRN system. It was like the acronym PRN could no longer be mentioned in public unless it was being bashed about a bit. I was also hearing that Producers apparently have an appetite for radical change and that on mass they don’t think a modified PRN system is fit for purpose for the future.
To me, government ministers clearly want to have flagship new policies that may result in a few short-term vote winning headlines, but what I think the industry really needs is a robust, well thought out workable new system that delivers over the long term. I don’t think anyone can argue that the PRN system has not delivered its objective over 20 years as it clearly has done just that. It has enabled the UK to meet EU recycling targets and has done so at very low cost for obligated Producers when compared to other legislative models across Europe. There are undoubtedly arguments to say it could be more transparent and that the data gathering could be less burdensome along with prices being less volatile. However, I believe most Producers in the current system are now well accustomed and relatively satisfied with the current PRN model and the reality is that not that many are actively calling for radical changes to be made. Maybe quite a few will become very vocal in terms of speaking up against radical change once they realise just how much the planned future options/models will ramp up complexities and costs for them to have to absorb.
I do think that whatever the future final solution it should be built around some of the key factors that have made the PRN system a success. It needs to have an element of competition and have market forces operating to drive efficiencies, enhanced service levels and increased performance. It needs to be results orientated especially if Producers are going to be paying higher fees. Producers will want to have control of their costs and be able to affect them by their actions in terms of packaging placed on the market. This is key to the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation. Despite Brexit, I appreciate that we need to meet article 8a of the EU Circular Economy Plan which states that Producers are required to meet the full net cost recovery of the packaging that they place on the market. The next step surely is defining what full net cost recovery actually means by definition and how much this adds up to in costs. Without some amends and add-on improvements, I accept that the current PRN system (with its price variances) may not be able to adequately perform this task but I think that this should not mean that the PRN model with improvements should be completely thrown out as an option to develop further. It is clear that local authorities need funding for their role in collecting and sorting packaging waste from householders but I think this can be done with some modulated fees paid by Producers within a PRN type model.
Anyway, I could type away on my laptop for hours on end about all the options and considerations but I am sure many reading this will have already got a bit bogged down with what I have covered already. Luckily, my train journey is approaching an end and I need to wrap this blog up. So my final thought is that I am delighted that there is a lot of energy and buzz around future plans for packaging waste especially given this has not always been the case over the past 20 years. I am hopeful that as an industry we can work through all the complexities to arrive at a super duper new efficient system that is not overly complicated. I am sure that it will be at least 2022 if not 2023 before we see it in action. Thanks for reading"
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