Changes to producer responsibility for batteries and packaging

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has today (27 March) launched a consultation on changes to the producer responsibility (PR) schemes for batteries and packaging, and is calling on stakeholders to submit evidence relating to a review of recycling targets.

Changes to producer responsibility for batteries and packaging

Under the PR regimes, producers of packaging and batteries are required to finance the recycling and recovery of packaging/batteries when they become waste. The regimes aim to internalise some of the environmental costs associated with use of virgin materials (which for batteries include toxic substances such as cadmium and mercury), greenhouse gas emissions, and disamenity impacts from litter.

In both cases, the regime sets minimum recycling and recovery targets for UK producers. Producers then demonstrate that a minimum level of recovery and recycling will be met by purchasing evidence that the waste has been accepted for recycling and recovery (or exported with a view to reprocessing) in the form of Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs) or Packaging Export Recovery Notes (PERNs).

If recycling rates are not high enough, the recycling evidence is scarce and the cost of purchasing it rises. This money can then be used by the reprocessing and exporting industries to support further collection and treatment of recyclates.

However, the government has said that changes are needed as the ‘current regime imposes costs on businesses that could be reduced without affecting… overall success’.

Proposed amendments

As such, it is suggesting that the Waste Batteries and Accumulators Regulations 2009, Producer Responsibility Obligation (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007, and Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007 are amended to reduce the administrative burden and costs to businesses.

The government has outlined that it wishes to ‘streamline’ the process of both regimes.

For the packaging regime this would be done by:

  • removing the requirement for operational plans;
  • transfering responsibility for approving new compliance schemes from the government to the environment agencies; and
  • enabling producers and compliance schemes to delegate the sign off of reporting and monitoring requirements to the most appropriate person in agreement with the relevant environment agency.

For the batteries regime this would be done by:

  • removing the requirement for operational plans and the requirement for annual approval of these plans;
  • removing the requirement for batteries treatment operators and exporters to undertake an independent audit of their compliance activities; and
  • enabling producers to delegate the sign off of reporting and monitoring requirements to the most appropriate person in agreement with the relevant environment agency.
  • It has been estimated that these changes could save businesses around £2.2 million per year.

Defra stated: ‘Whilst Defra is confident that this package of proposals will save businesses and the environment agencies time and money, we are looking to improve upon the analysis in this document through consultation. Any feedback will be gratefully received, whether it is to highlight additional impacts we have not yet captured or to help us revise assumptions we have made about the amount of time and money each proposal might save.’

If approved, the amendments would come into effect on 1 October 2015.

Recycling targets review

The consultation paper also seeks evidence to help underpin a review of the waste plastic packaging target, and to support the government’s analysis with the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and other partners to consider what further actions can be taken to ensure that the household waste recycling target is met.

Under the EU Packaging Directive, the UK is currently required to recycle 22.5 per cent of plastic packaging waste, though this will most probably be revised up in the European Commission’s upcoming Circular Economy Package (the first draft of the package suggested that packaging targets would increase, with plastic packaging recycling rate rising to 45 per cent by 2020).

Defra estimates that if there were no further growth in the amount of plastic placed on the market, with the current business targets for obligated producers, the UK would expect to achieve a 47.1 per cent plastic recycling rate by 2017.

As such, Defra is calling on industry to submit information on costs and benefits of keeping the UK’s current targets, reducing the targets (including any modelling or evidence that shows how PRN prices could respond to target changes), or delaying achievement of the 2016 and 2017 targets to ‘inform assessment and decisions on next steps’.

Looking to household recycling rates, Defra notes that the recycling rate for waste from households has ‘now been roughly 44 per cent for the last two years’. The government is therefore undertaking a programme of work with stakeholders and the WRAP to understand the evidence and drivers for influencing recycling rates and the best interventions.

It is now asking respondents to identify whether there are opportunities, barriers, and ‘cost-effective interventions’ for the PR regime for packaging to better support local authority collection of waste packaging for recycling.

Stakeholders have until 22 May to respond to the consultation.

Read the packaging waste consultation document.

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