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UK – a brave new world in a European context

Abbie Burford
Nov 09, 2021

 

After nearly two years of trade show suspension, The Recycling and Waste Management (RWM) show returned to the NEC in Birmingham this September. The day brings together businesses from across the sector and gives them a platform to pitch products and services.

As firm partners and therefore regular attendees of the RWM, Valpak hosted its own theatre where speakers from across the business and collaborators presented on key areas, most notably the upcoming changes to the UK packaging compliance system: the introduction of Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging and a Plastic Packaging Tax.

For those familiar with the UK Packaging Waste Regulations, these represent the most significant modifications to the legislation since its inception in 1997. Conversely, this “new” system that is coming into the UK is, in fact, the model which EU member states based their own packaging waste requirements on, in response to the same EU Waste Packaging Directive that sparked the UK’s shared responsibility system.

Valpak is instrumental in the ongoing consultations towards the finalisation of the transition to EPR and plastic packaging tax. Valpak is also in the fortunate position of being a front-running industry representative for packaging producers across the UK and therefore immediately understands the concerns that these changes have caused across all UK business areas. For this reason, we were keen to present the UK’s position alongside long-standing EPR systems in Europe, to reassure producers that this concept is far from new.

Mirroring the title of this blog, my manager Nicole and I did just that during our 30-minute speaking slot at the RWM. We represent a unique partnership, as we have undertaken identical career paths within Valpak, starting in the International Environmental Compliance department as account managers, then progressing to the UK Data Insights team as Commercial Account Managers. Our similar experiences have provided us both with the expertise to make connections between existing systems and proposed systems, and foresee expected shifts, as a result of two key new drivers - the EU Circular Economy Action Plan (March 2020) and the Single-use Plastics Directive (July 2019).

For those who were unable to attend the talk, the key points are summarised below:

Point of compliance and scoping

The current UK packaging system works under a shared responsibility system (i.e., the obligation to comply is spread along all stages of the supply chain), but the introduction of EPR would see a shift to the producer footing 100% of the compliance bill.

In existing European EPR systems, establishing the obligated party considers key aspects of sales activities, such as whether the producer has a physical presence (a retail store or sales office) or whether they sell exclusively to retailers and distributors. Minimum thresholds also play a key role, as they tend to be a lot lower than the UK ones, if they exist at all. Countries with no minimum threshold for packaging include France, Germany, and Spain.

Type of packaging is also considered. Most countries only obligate primary and secondary packaging (e.g., Germany and Sweden); however, some extend out to transit and logistics packaging. The prime example of this is in Belgium where two packaging compliance schemes are in place - one dealing with household packaging and the other with logistics packaging.

In line with this, it is fair to expect potential extension to EPR to include other goods, particularly as some specifics were mentioned in the UK Resources and Waste Strategy. The most significant waste streams being considered are those that are already subject to compliance obligations in Europe, including textiles (operating in France since 2008 and due to be implemented in Denmark, Spain, and Sweden in 2022) and furniture (France – since 2015), labelled as ‘bulky waste’ in the Waste Strategy. Other waste streams currently captured by EPR/taxes include paper (France – since 2005) and even soap (Hungary), which gives us an idea of future legislation we could see here in the UK.

Introduction of ‘modulated fees’

Eco-modulation is a buzzword across Europe, which has been used over the last couple of years. In a nutshell, the concept encourages packaging producers to opt for more conscious materials, by offering reduced compliance fees for packaging with higher levels of recyclability, recycled content and even reusability.

Some examples include the infamous “bonus-malus” system in France, which offers 12% reduction in plastic packaging fees if the material used features in the national sorting instructions, among others. In contrast, penalties are added to the fees for any plastic packaging that is dark, rigid, and therefore undetectable by optical sorting systems. Essentially, the more difficult the material is to recycle, the higher compliance fees will be payable.

The Swedish packaging system demonstrates this concept perfectly, as it constitutes a two-tier fee system; level one being harder to recycle materials (e.g., composites) and level 2 simpler, easier to recycle materials. The UK EPR system is looking to mirror this, by implementing increased compliance costs for harder to recycle packaging.

Changes to data reporting

This ties in nicely with the differences in data requirements under EPR. To qualify for the reduced fees, producers must be able to monitor the recyclability of their packaging in the relevant system. Recycled content will also be an aspect that will need to be monitored, if producers are to be exempt from the UK Plastic Packaging Tax by providing evidence of at least 30% non-virgin content. Such evidence will also be needed for exemption from plastic taxes in Europe, including Italy and Spain.

Mandatory labelling

So far in the UK, labelling requirements haven’t been significant. In France and Spain, however, labels are key. Spain requires all household packaging to bare the Green Dot symbol, which although originally was an EU-wide requirement, now is only recognised as mandatory in the Spanish legislation. France’s contribution comes in the form of the Triman, designed to encourage French consumers to properly separate their packaging waste. This is also a mandatory requirement on all household packaging and will need to be accompanied by sorting instructions from 2022 onwards.

The latest addition to packaging labelling requirements has been introduced because of the Single-use Plastics Directive, which despite Brexit, the UK has also implemented. Although the Single-use Plastics Turtle label, designed to show consumers the damage single-use plastic items cause to marine environments, has not been adopted as part of our legislation it again provides clues on where future UK labelling could gain its inspiration.

The final area of interest is more applicable to WEEE (waste electric and electronic equipment), but still noteworthy as consultations to reform the current WEEE and battery compliance systems in the UK are due to begin in early 2022. Visible fees must be displayed at the point of purchase of new EEE, either on a receipt or invoice, to show the customer that the necessary fee has been paid towards the proper recycling of the product when it becomes waste. France stipulates this requirement for WEEE compliance and Belgium, Czech Republic and Republic of Ireland do so for WEEE and batteries.

Increased monitoring and enforcement

The issuing of hefty fines by environment agencies in the UK has been less common over the last few years in comparison to the actions taken by equivalents in other European nations. Under the revised EPR-based system, it is hoped that the introduction of higher registration fees for obligated businesses, material reprocessors and exporters, in combination with heavier penalties for those not complying with the regulations will provide the UK’s environmental enforcement agencies with both the legal ways and financial means to enforce the regulations more regularly and effectively, be it against domestic businesses or overseas operators. Such is the case with Germany’s system, which imposes potential penalties of up to €200,000 and even a ban on selling if a producer is found to be non-compliant. It is safe to assume that with a shift to a similar system in the UK there is no better time to ensure you are fully compliant!

Where do we go from here?

These potential and confirmed changes will inevitably raise concerns for businesses trading and supplying to the UK, particularly the requirements for and level of reporting to reduce the financial impact of EPR for packaging and the Plastic Packaging Tax, both in the UK and abroad.

Valpak offer tools, services, and expertise to significantly ease this burden for businesses, so please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have:

info@valpak.co.uk

envcompliance@valpak.co.uk

Or visit our events page to book a one to one EPR clinic.

 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this weblog represent those of the individual authors and not those of Valpak Limited or any other organisation.