Food producers have criticised “rushed” packaging recycling reforms that don’t have the right infrastructure in place to back them up.
Extended Producer responsibility (or EPR) rules - due to be introduced next year - will shift responsibility from councils to make firms and retailers responsible for the costs of dealing with packaging waste.
Its ultimate aim is to encourage food producers to reduce the amount of packaging they use and encourage more recyclable and sustainable packaging.
However, Food and Drink Federation EPR project director, Jim Bligh, said the system was being introduced too soon and warned that the reforms could create £2bn of extra costs for producers.
Speaking to Supply Management, he said: “EPR is a huge opportunity to drive UK recycling rates up and reduce the amount of virgin plastic used in packaging, by creating a circular economy. But the government is dodging this opportunity.
“The current plans will create an ineffective and inefficient scheme that will not deliver an improved infrastructure and could add up to £2bn annual costs for food and drink producers.”
He is calling on EPR to be delayed, to allow time “to build a new, efficient system to prevent further food price increases next year.”
A delay is supported by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which says the government needs to “significantly invest” in the UK’s recycling infrastructure first in order to make “meaningful improvements” to UK recycling rates.
The sticking point for business groups seems to be the fact that the proposed new rules have not established how the UK intends to develop its recycling systems, and nor has it set out how EPR funds will be ring-fenced to prevent councils diverting funds into other budget streams.
BRC chief executive, Helen Dickinson, said the government needs to “go back to the drawing board” and said its “haste to introduce a new system is undermining the system itself”.
She added: “We have the opportunity to get it right. We want to see a scheme which improves recycling in the UK and ensures a steady supply of recyclable material that can be reused for future packaging.”
But, Local Government Association environment spokesperson, Cllr Linda Taylor, criticised food producers seeking to delay the proposals.
“The introduction of the EPR is an important reform with the purpose of encouraging industry to create less unnecessary packaging and to use material that is more easily recycled,” she said. “This will bring us in line with other countries operating similar schemes.”
She added: “Councils have been planning for the introduction of EPR in 2024, following previous delays. It would be disappointing if there was another delay, creating further uncertainties to the waste reforms. Reducing waste and boosting recycling is everyone’s business.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “Our EPR scheme will place more responsibility on businesses to reduce excess packaging and to make items more easily recyclable.”
They added: “We have been engaging closely with manufacturers, retailers, and packaging companies on the final design of the scheme and on delivery plans. We will continue to work with these vital groups to help shape future policy.”
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