Sector still ‘waiting for clarity’ after EPR delays

The waste sector has stressed the need for clarity from Defra after yesterday’s (25 July) announcement that the collection of extended producer responsibility (EPR) fees will be delayed until October 2025.

Defra delays extended producer responsibilityFollowing the announcement, Defra released a statement explaining the reason for the delay to the waste sector and promising to use ‘the additional year to continue to discuss the scheme’s design with industry and reduce the costs of implementation wherever possible’.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow added: “We are also listening to industry and ensuring our work to tackle inflation and to drive up recycling go hand in hand, to make sure our reforms will be a success.”

Simon Roberts, CEO of Sainsbury’s, welcomed the delay and indicated that it would provide necessary additional time to work to ‘get EPR right first time’.

Steve Gough, CEO at Valpak, also responded positively: “This offers a great opportunity to effectively have a dry run of the EPR data collection process, so that targets for 2025 EPR can be set in the most appropriate manner.”

Margaret Bates, Managing Director at OPRL and former president of CIWM, echoed Gough’s hopes: “While we are keen to see the implementation of EPR, this delay has the potential to offer producers and local authorities valuable time to budget and prepare.

“However, with such a radical overhaul of costs and systems, it is crucial that guidance is provided well in advance of the next deadline.”

‘Waste reforms continue to be hamstrung’

Despite mostly acknowledging the need to now delay extended producer responsibility, the industry has bemoaned the time Defra has taken to get to this stage.

Executive Director at the Environment Services Association, Jacob Hayler, said: “It is incredible that after five years, two rounds of formal consultation and countless man-hours spent in preparation, critical waste reforms continue to be hamstrung by dither and delay…

“Continued political malaise over the reforms simply delays the UK’s inevitable and vital transition to a more sustainable and resource-efficient economy – placing us well behind other nations – and puts at risk billions of pounds of investment in new green infrastructure and jobs.”

Lee Marshall, Policy and External Affairs Director at CIWM, echoed the concerns and added that he feared that they will result in ‘the public continuing to bear the cost of packaging recycling and disposal, less investment in recycling infrastructure due to a loss of confidence in the legislative framework, and a significant slowing of the UK’s green economy’.

The Recycling Association chief executive Paul Sanderson added: “This further delay to the implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility is unbelievable.

"We've been waiting too long for EPR and Consistency of Collections to be introduced, and we need to get on with it.

"Both of these policies have the potential to transform the UK recycling landscape, and provide essential funds to develop UK infrastructure. We've had too many years of drift already since these policies were first announced in 2018, and now it seems we won't get any further until at least 2025. That is too long, especially as much of the detail should have long been worked out.

"This delay must ensure that we are fully ready to implement EPR and Consistency of Collections soon after with all of the policy detail worked out and agreed."

Consistency legislation and EPR

The National Association of Waste Disposal Officers (NAWDO) said it was ‘disappointed’ at the news on EPR and noted that the delay throws ‘further doubt’ on how and if the wider reforms set out in the Resources and Waste Strategy will be taken forward.

Despite mostly seeing the delay as necessary, some stakeholders have also expressed worry over the knock-on effect of the delay, particularly on consistency legislation, while recognising the delay may make room for further work in other areas of the reforms.

Head of Sustainability and Consulting at environmental consultant Ecoveritas, Kathy Illingworth, commented: “It’s bittersweet. This pause for thought should allow Defra to build in more clarity, but there is certainly a job to be done to rebuild confidence.

“At the same time, all eyes will be on the industry now, who, having gotten the delay they wanted, should rally around a good policy for the planet and the environment. Perhaps the government can now make progress on the consistency of collection by local authorities, which will be essential if EPR is to be the effective policy we know it can be.”

Defra confirmed yesterday that consistent recycling collections for households will come in after the implementation of the extended producer responsibility scheme. The department promised that ‘more details on this will be set out in due course’.

NAWDO continued to criticise the government for taking over two years to respond to the consultation on consistency and said that local authorities are facing increasing financial pressure from the ‘disjointed approach’ that has been taken to policy delivery from different government departments.

Margaret Bates from OPRL added that she felt that Defra needs ‘robust stakeholder engagement’ to ensure the successful implementation of the reforms: “While local authorities now know that consistency implementation will remain on course, they are still waiting for clarity. Many brands are also keen for information on consistency to enable them to assess packaging materials and make relevant changes.

“This is a big change for every area of the supply chain, so the more support available from Defra, the better.”

Effect on local authorities

EPR and consistency delays are putting added pressure on local authorities to deliver services without clarity and support from Defra, with the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) labelling the delay as ‘disappointing’ and ‘concerning’.

Cathy Cook, Chair of LARAC, said: "LARAC and its members are extremely disappointed and frustrated by the announcement that the funding due to Local Authorities through EPR will be further delayed, consequently meaning they will have to continue to foot the
bill for the management of packaging waste, whilst the producers of said packaging have once again been provided a ‘stay of execution’ by the government. Local Authorities are under more and more pressure to fund services within a very challenging environment, and Defra does not appear to appreciate the severity of the situation.

“Funding through the Extended Producer Responsibility scheme is not only vital to ensure quality waste management service provision, but it is funding that Local Authorities have a
right to receive, ensuring that those producers responsible for putting packaging on the market support the management of it via the 'polluter pays' principle.

“Four and a half years after the release of the Resources and Waste Strategy, there is still nothing concrete from the government for Local Authorities to work towards. With continued delays in the major reforms, Local Authorities have been unable to plan accordingly for these changes, which will significantly impact their time and resources, something which doesn't seem to be fully appreciated by Defra".

LARAC added that they are ‘still none the wiser’ about the timescale for consistent collections – despite Defra promising that more details will be released ‘in due course’. It called the government’s cost-of-living justification ‘ironic’ given that ‘the public will be the ones who pay for the services provided by Local Authorities in the interim’.