'Producer responsibility' at heart of English waste strategy

Out-Law News | 19 Dec 2018 | 4:45 pm | 3 min. read

Businesses and manufacturers will be held more responsible for the costs of recycling packaging and products in England under plans put forward by the government.

The new resources and waste strategy also proposes overhauling household waste recycling, including requiring the collection of a consistent set of recyclable materials, potential weekly collections of food waste and a new deposit return scheme. The government has also proposed compulsory electronic tracking of waste, and tougher penalties for waste crime.

Michael Gove, environment secretary, said that the strategy would "cut our reliance on single-use plastics, end confusion over household recycling, tackle the problem of packaging by making polluters pay, and end the economic, environmental and moral scandal that is food waste".

"Through this plan we will cement our place as a world leader in resource efficiency, leaving our environment in a better state than we inherited it," he said.

The government's proposed new waste policy is based on the concept of 'extended producer responsibility' (EPR), which means extending the producer's responsibility for a product through to the point that it is used and disposed of. The document sets out 'strategic ambitions' and rough timescales by which it anticipates extending EPR to different types of product, beginning with a consultation on packaging in early 2019 with an anticipated entry into force in 2023.

Currently, producers cover around 10% of the cost of disposing of or recycling packaging that they place on the market through various schemes which operate under the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations. The government intends to legislate, subject to consultation, so that producers become responsible for the full cost. Along with the cost implications, the government's view is that this will incentivise design for greater reuse and recyclability. The reformed system will "match or exceed" the EU's revised packaging recycling targets for 2025 and 2030.

After packaging reform, the government intends to extend the EPR principle to other types of product that may be more difficult or costly to recycle. It will begin with a review of the producer responsibility regulations applicable to cars, electrical goods and batteries by the end of the current parliament in 2022, before exploring potential new EPR schemes for textiles, vehicle tyres, construction and demolition materials and bulky waste, among others. The new schemes may include mandatory guarantees and extended warranties on products, to encourage manufacturers to design products that last longer and drive up levels of repair and re-use.

The government also intends to consult on potential legislation that will allow the government to specify a core set of materials to be collected for recycling by all local authorities and waste operators. It also aims to make recycling less confusing for consumers through consistent labelling requirements, which will be explored under the various EPR schemes. It will consult on requiring the collection of food waste from households and "appropriate businesses" weekly, in order to reduce the amount of biodegradable material sent to landfill. The government aims to introduce weekly food waste collections by 2023. It will also explore whether households with gardens should be entitled to free garden waste collections.

The strategy document confirms the government's intention to introduce a deposit return scheme on single-use drinks containers, building on its proposed bans on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. It will publish details of the proposed scheme for consultation early next year, with a view to introducing it by 2023.

On waste crime, the government has confirmed its intention to establish a new 'Joint Unit for Waste Crime' as recommended by a recent independent review. It will also consult on the introduction of compulsory electronic tracking of waste; and reform the regulations on duty of care, the carrier/broker/dealers regime, hazardous waste, and international waste shipments.

"The changes to waste recycling and food waste recycling in particular could be really significant from a cost and environmental point of view for manufacturers, waste producers, those involved in recycling activities and local authorities," said environmental law expert Georgie Messent of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. "We look forward to seeing the detailed proposals."

"Councils will need to consider renegotiation of existing waste contracts, to adapt them to the increased frequency of food waste collections, or look to put in place new arrangements. They will also no doubt seek to pass through these costs to businesses and the general public," she said.

"Extending the EPR principles and legal obligations further for producers, and subsequently for others, will have really significant financial consequences for those covered by the extended framework of producer responsibility. We will review the consultation closely once it's released, and will update on the deadlines and implications of these changes," she said.