Eunomia invites producers and retailers to shape new European legislation

Environmental consultancy Eunomia is carrying out research for the European Commission about how to improve compliance with extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations.

EPR is long recognised within the EU for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), batteries and packaging. Under EPR, producers – both manufacturers and retailers – take financial responsibility for the end-of-life management of products and packaging by collectively contributing to a common fund.

Various EPR schemes have proved very useful for subsidising recycling programmes and increasing product sustainability. EPR schemes aim to shift the financial burden of recycling from the taxpayer to the producer, incentivising low-waste packaging as companies are required to pay less when less of their stock requires specialised recycling systems.

The consultation has been requested regarding the issue of 'free-riding', where retailers, usually those selling on online platforms, avoid responsibilities and costs associated with EPR, whether intentionally or otherwise.

Research conducted previously by Eunomia found that five to 10 per cent of online sellers were not registered with an EPR scheme, and a WEEE forum found that between 44 and 88 per cent of electrical items sold online were also unregistered.

As online sales increase rapidly, the European Commission has asked Eunomia to investigate the scale of the issue, what causes it, and to develop some solutions, before the concept of EPR is undermined entirely.

The data will then be used to inform upcoming amendments of the Digital Services and Digital Markets Acts, ensuring that each producer pays their fair share towards end-of-life management.

Star Molteno, consultant at Eunomia Research and Consulting, said: “Existing approaches were not designed with online sales in mind, but rather on the basis that goods are purchased from 'brick-and-mortar' stores.

“Failure to fully account for online purchases leads to issues in the accuracy of reported sales, and thus of the reported recycling rates, and ultimately undermines the application of Extended Producer Responsibility.

“Current evidence shows that this is particularly a problem with smaller electrical items and batteries, but is also of significance for packaging, and will be of growing significance to other product categories as EPR is rolled out, such as textiles.”

All stakeholders, including sellers and retailers, government agencies, NGOs, and producer associations, are invited to register online to give their input, by 8 October. Additionally, stakeholders are encouraged to contact Eunomia with any further written evidence or position papers, particularly with reference to the scale of the problem, insights into the causes, and ideas for approaches to tackling the issue.

Eunomia has also invited producers and sellers of batteries and electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) to complete a survey on their experience of EPR compliance, to help shape policy development in the future.