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The government has released its response to a consultation on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging waste, revealing changes to original recommendations.

EPR was first proposed by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) in December 2018, seeking to encourage the use of more sustainable packaging by charging producers to pay for the net cost of managing materials once they become waste.

Following the consultation, Defra has decided to implement EPR in a ‘phased manner’ from 2024 rather than the original date of 2023, focusing on payment for household packing waste and packaging in street bins managed by local authorities. This, it said, would ‘simplify and de-risk delivery’.

The payments for household packaging will support improved recycling collections for households, provide for the collection of additional packaging materials for recycling such as plastic films and flexible packaging and mean that all households will be able to recycle the same packaging materials from home, Defra added.

In addition, modulated fees based on recyclability will be introduced from 2025, rather than 2024. In England and Northern Ireland, payments for littered packaging waste will not be introduced, while Scotland and Wales are considering steps to obligate producers for these costs and will come forward with their proposals in due course, Defra said.

The government has decided to maintain the threshold for producer recycling obligations and disposal cost payments at £2m turnover and 50 tonnes of packaging handled each year, rather than to lower it. However, a lower threshold of £1m turnover and 25 tonnes of packaging handled each year will be introduced for producers to report packaging placed on the market only.

Defra has also confirmed it will introduce:

  • · A mandatory takeback scheme for the collection and recycling of fibre-based composite cups
  • · Mandatory labelling of packaging for recyclability with a single labelling format
  • · Annual packaging waste recycling targets to 2030.

A scheme administrator will be appointed, starting to mobilise in 2023 and becoming fully operational in 2024.

The government expects obligated producer costs to be around £1.7bn each year. Defra said its initial analysis indicated that the scheme will not result in any significant increases in food prices for consumers.

Defra’s consultation response also signalled its intention to ‘continue to explore payments for commercially collected packaging waste (from businesses and other organisations that pay for the collection of their waste), establishing a task force with cross-sector representation to develop the evidence, undertake analysis and identify options’.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) welcomed the government’s “constructive and pragmatic approach” to EPR in the consultation response.

“Food and drink manufacturers fully support changes in UK public policy to help us all move towards a circular economy, and we’re committed to continuing to work in partnership with governments and consumers to achieve this,” said Karen Betts, FDF chief executive.

“We welcome the UK government’s flexibility as the measures have been drawn up, including further discussion on business waste, which would impose disproportionate costs on businesses, as well as the obligation on industry to pay for illegal littering, a decision which we hope the devolved administrations will also adopt.

“Food and drink manufacturers will continue to engage with UK and devolved governments on the remaining elements of EPR, including the establishment of the scheme administrator,” Betts added.