Defra’s EPR reform delays having knock-on effects on local councils

The Blueprint Coalition has released a progress tracker report on the Government’s progress in implementing a series of recommendations made by the Coalition in 2020. The original report focused on ways the Government could assist local councils in reaching climate goals. The progress tracker report identified that Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) delays are having a ‘high cost’ burden’ on local authorities due to the significant benefits they could have. The reforms were announced in the 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy for 2023, but are now delayed until 2024.

Flexible plasticsThe Blueprint Coalition is formed of several significant environmental groups, including the Association of Directors of Environment (ADEPT), Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, and Greenpeace UK.

The original series of recommendations identified that local authorities play ‘a central role in ensuring that we manage resources efficiently and safely’ and EPR was said to be a source of additional finances for councils. The report says progress on implementing is ‘moving too slowly’.

The Blueprint Coalition progress tracker report made the following observations about EPR:

Reducing pressure on local authorities

EPR was noted in the original report as a method to reduce pressure on local authorities by minimising the number of single-use plastic and general waste items in waste systems. Defra said EPR reforms will include a mandatory take-back scheme for the collection of and recycling of disposable coffee cups and a deposit return scheme that would exclude glass. This would reduce the number of items needing to be processed by local authorities.

Encourage use of easily-recyclable items

The EPR waste reforms also included the proposal of modulated producer fees – meaning the fees will be based on the environmental impact of the product. Defra hoped that the fee structure will incentivise improved recyclability by design, give producers control over the fees they pay and mitigate impacts on costs to the consumer. Modulated fees are not set to be introduced until 2025.

Fully funded by the producer

The original recommendations stated that EPR should be fully funded by the producer and allow all local councils to achieve full net cost recovery. The delay until 2024 and the appointment of a new government mean that it is unclear how  the following concerns about EPR, as identified by the Blueprint Coalition, will be addressed:

  • Business waste has been dropped from EPR, meaning producers will now be liable for an estimated £1.7 billion of costs rather than the estimated £2.7 billion which would cover the cost of both business and household recycling. This potentially undermines polluter pays/full life cycle approaches.
  • We have not yet seen details of how the intended full net cost recovery payments to local councils will actually be determined/calculated. A formula-based approach (which seems likely) could substantially shortchange some councils, particularly in built-up areas with challenging / diverse waste management and collection systems.
  • Local authority fees will cover household waste and on-street bins but not litter, meaning the scheme will not cover full costs in any case.

To be used for the introduction of separate food waste collections and allow for further innovations

Waste innovation for local authorities has the potential to be funded by EPR. Delays on the reforms mean that councils are absorbing these costs themselves or are delaying innovation, setting themselves behind on climate goals. The Blueprint Coalition acknowledged that the Government’s June 2021 consultation on consistency in household and business recycling recognised the need to provide new funding for additional costs such as food waste recycling. The Government stated an intention to respond in early 2022, but a response has not yet been published.

Great clear, single, consistent and comprehensive messaging on packaging

Defra has promised that EPR reforms would include a mandate on the labelling of packaging for recyclability with a single-labelling format. This would also include a ‘do not recycle’ label on compostable and biodegradable packaging. There are no details as of yet as to how this mandate will be implemented and supported.