EPR and DRS Reform: The state of play

Over the next few years, we expect to see significant changes to legislation for dealing with packaging waste, which will have a significant impact on packaging producers and consumers. Valpak Policy Researcher, Henry Smith's blog provides an update on the programme of reforms on the horizon.

Over the next few years, we expect to see reforms to the packaging waste sector that are on a par with the introduction of the Packaging Waste Regulations in 1997.

Changes include the implementation of a deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers in all four nations of the UK and the introduction of an extended producer responsibility system for all other types of household packaging. Some of these reforms will affect businesses and consumers alike next year, but how much do we know about the programme of reforms on the horizon?


An uncertain summer

The UK’s packaging waste legislation is not immune to the latest economic and political headwinds. With a more difficult economic outlook emerging, there has recently been a steady uptick in the number of reports of potential delays to the scheduled reforms. The impact of reform on household budgets and the pace of change is proving the main battleground between those advocating for the delay, and those staunchly opposed. Despite this, Defra’s timetable for reform (as communicated in March of this year) remains, and work continues within the department to try to bring reforms in. Valpak, alongside a multitude of other stakeholders, is keen to support the continuing effort to implement the reforms as planned.

Scottish DRS

After the Plastic Packaging Tax, which came into force in April, next on the proverbial conveyor belt is the Scottish Deposit Return Scheme. From October 2025, all drinks in PET bottles, aluminium and steel cans, and glass bottles, between 50ml and 3l in capacity sold in Scotland will have a 20p deposit levied on them. Producers of in-scope containers await the imminent announcement of the fees they will pay to support the functioning of the scheme. For retailers, the priority is to develop plans for accommodating the containers being returned to them. If the scheme is to be a success, an increase in the level of engagement between wider society and the producer community is needed, to ensure businesses of all sizes prepare effectively and avoid the worst outcomes.

The rest of the UK DRS

The last update from the government about the deposit return scheme for the rest of the UK came in May when they announced that glass containers would be in the scope of the Welsh system, but won’t be included in the English and Northern Irish systems, producing more confusion than it alleviated. Now industry waits for the answers to a number of questions: will there be separate administrators for the deposit return schemes in the four nations of the UK? What will the deposit level be? And perhaps most importantly of all, should we still be expecting the DRS to be introduced in 2025? All we can do is continue to wait for the government’s consultation response, which Defra says will be published at the earliest possible opportunity.

Extended producer responsibility

EPR reform sits squarely between the Scottish and rest-of-UK DRS both in terms of its intended timing and in the overall clarity about the reform. Whilst we now know that EPR will see the continuation of the PRN system (enjoying its 25th birthday this year), with specific EPR fees affecting only household packaging, we don’t yet know how a business can evidence that their packaging will not become household packaging waste, and thus avoid incurring EPR fees atop PRN cost obligations. Similarly, we know now that businesses in England and Northern Ireland won’t pick up the costs of ground litter, but may have to in Wales and Scotland, and will have to cover the costs of packaging waste in street bins in all four nations, leaving open the question of how the government will achieve an equitable apportionment of costs to industry?

We also know that EPR reforms will see responsibility move to brand owners, importers, and online marketplaces primarily, but there are still large grey areas that risk obligated packaging going unaccounted for or being double, or triple-counted. One of the thorniest issues of all will centre on how we deal with DRS materials that end up in household waste streams – will PRNs be issued on this material and who will be responsible for funding this? Then there’s the question of the scheme administrator, who is it, will they be ready in time for EPR to come into effect and what functions will they be performing? Defra, local government, and industry continue to work together giving every reason to be confident that EPR will launch as planned.

The remainder of 2022

With the tail end of 2022 now in sight, industry and Defra need to focus on getting into the best possible position ahead of the reforms of 2023. For Defra, this means providing certainty to industry that the reforms are going ahead as planned, then working out (and communicating to industry) what data they are going to want to be reported to them in 2023, and the level of detail required. It also means getting the future EPR Scheme Administrator up and running – this would be the single greatest signal to industry that the reforms are on track. For SEPA it requires them to finalise the producer fees obligated businesses will pay and the timetable in which they must make those payments, as well as getting the infrastructure up and running to start accepting container returns, and reimbursing consumers those all-important deposits, from 16 August.

Businesses have three tasks. First, they need to continue to engage positively with the government about the upcoming reforms and keep up to date on what is to come – Valpak will continue to help businesses with this. Secondly, businesses need to determine which of the reforms will affect them – do they qualify as a producer under the Scottish DRS, and are they obligated under EPR? If the answer to either is yes, then thirdly they need to adapt their own operations to allow them to comply with the new regulations, most importantly the new data and reporting requirements that are going to affect them from 1 January and register at the appropriate time.

Join our webinar

We are hosting the first of a series of EPR Update webinars on Tuesday 6 September for customers. We will cover the basics of EPR, and the upcoming timeline – so you understand what actions your business needs to take and when they need to be completed, and will take you through our member to-do list and data reporting requirements list.