Five misconceptions about EPR

Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging is now well and truly with us in the UK, as from 1 March affected producers must collect packaging data to a level of detail never before required by regulators. Henry Smith, Valpak's Policy Researcher, dispels five misconceptions about these reforms to the Packaging Waste Regulations.

Despite significant efforts in recent months on the part of the government to rapidly increase industry preparedness around this landmark policy reform, a lack of clarity remains in many areas.

On the one hand, this is because several key aspects of the reforms remain unannounced by the government; eco-modulation parameters, scheme administrator design, and data declaration forms being notable grey areas. On the other hand, a lack of understanding is the result of many misconceptions about the reforms. Here are five common misconceptions about the EPR reforms explained.

EPR just applies to household packaging

Whilst new waste management costs will be payable by those placing packaging that is likely to become household packaging waste onto the UK market, non-household packaging is still affected by the reforms.

Firstly, not all non-household packaging will avoid incurring EPR fees, as any primary or shipment packaging not being supplied directly to a business end user must be reported as household packaging; incurring EPR fees atop Packaging Recycling Note (PRN) fees retained under the reformed system.

Only primary and shipment packaging that can be proven to have been directly supplied to a business end user can be reported as non-household.

Moreover, packaging will need to be declared to regulators on a regular basis irrespective of its type: annually for small producers, and bi-annually for large producers.

Packaging subject to the Plastic Packaging Tax isn’t obligated under EPR, or EPR replaces it

The Plastic Packaging Tax, introduced in April 2022, places a £200 per tonne levy on plastic packaging components imported into or manufactured in the UK that do not contain at least 30% recycled content.

The tax aims to encourage more circularity in plastics by targeting production processes, whereas EPR reforms to the Packaging Waste Regulations aim to improve the waste management of all household packaging at its end of life.

The two are complementary, with EPR working to increase the availability of recyclate, whilst the Tax will encourage greater plastic recycling investment. The two policy measures are not identical in what they target and incentivise, and so it makes sense that some packaging is liable under both.

EPR fees are a blank cheque for local authorities

It is a common misunderstanding that obligated producers will be financing local authority waste management costs in their entirety, even where local authority operations are inefficient or excessively costly.

Whilst the fees they will receive and performance indicators that will eventually be held to remain unannounced, the apparent guiding principle behind the setting of EPR fees is to support the efficient and effective delivery of local authority waste collection services. This means that where local authorities underperform – even after accounting for their circumstances – the cost of inefficiency will remain with them, not funded by producer contributions.

Whilst local authorities suffering chronic underperformance will receive targeted support, EPR will not entail endless producer responsibility for their costs.

Producers need to report how much of their packaging is disposed of in street bins

It would be a near impossibility for obligated producers to determine, bi-annually, how much of their packaging ends up in street bins.

Fortunately, producers are not expected to do any of this. Instead, if any of the packaging producers place on the market matches regulators’ view of packaging likely to become street bin waste – available here – then they must report it as such and face enhanced household waste management (EPR) fees to cover local authority costs of managing those bins (at an estimated cost of around £100 million a year).

Producers need to know which nation of the UK their packaging ends up in where they don’t supply end users directly

Thankfully, it is incorrect to think that the new ‘supply by nation’ declarations required once a year by large and small producers alike mean those affected must report which UK nation their packaging arises as waste in.

Instead, producers will have to report which nation of the UK they have supplied packaging directly to an end user in; that end user can be a business or consumer. This means that much of the primary packaging placed on the UK market will be reported as supplied by retailers, with those in the middle of the supply chains potentially required to report the distribution of secondary or tertiary packaging their customers remove.

One further detail about nation of supply data submissions, that is often overlooked, is that it applies to other activities than just where packaging is being sold to end users.

It also applies to online marketplace sales by non-UK businesses to UK consumers, empty packaging supplied to exempt businesses, packaging being leased out, and packaging which is imported around goods and then discarded by the importer.

We will answer your queries

Hopefully, my blog has gone some way towards tackling the misconceptions about extended producer responsibility for packaging in the UK.

As ever though, if you have any queries about the reforms being introduced (or need any misconceptions clearing up) then Valpak’s expert team is on hand to help you, and you can contact us here.