Producers to be made responsible for packaging waste under new legislation

Out-Law News | 29 Oct 2019 | 5:07 pm | 2 min. read

The UK government has introduced legislation aimed at making producers more responsible for the packaging waste they produce.

The government announced the Environment Bill in the Queen’s Speech. It has since published the draft legislation.

Among the measures in the bill are amendments to the 1995 Environment Act which enable the future introduction of extended producer responsibility regulations.  Extended producer responsibility, which was trailed in the "Our Waste, Our Resources Strategy" in 2018, is a mechanism which extends a producer’s responsibility for a product to the post-use stage, thereby encouraging re-use, recycling and recovery.

Claire Gregory

Legal Director

The bill will shake up the industry and should boost recycling rates as well as tackle plastic pollution.

In her speech earlier in the month, environment secretary Theresa Villiers said that the aim is to make producers "responsible for 100% of the cost of dealing with the packaging waste they create, incentivising better design and more responsible choices and ensuring that more of the plastics we use is recyclable and recycled." It is anticipated that, when enacted, the extended producer responsibility regulations will require producers to pay the full net cost of managing their products at end of life.

The powers and accompanying policy statement envisage modulated fees that incentivise producers to design their products with re-use and recycling in mind, as those that make their products easier to recycle will pay less.

Producers currently cover about 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 additional enabling powers therefore empower the Government to bring forward additional legislation to radically alter producer responsibility obligations moving forward.

The legislation will also enable the introduction of charges for any single-use plastic item, in the wake of the successful 5p carrier bag charge introduced in 2015. It will allow for the establishment of deposit return schemes to encourage the recycling and reuse of items like plastic bottles and drinks cans.

Environmental law expert Claire Gregory of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said the legislation was to be welcomed.

“The bill attempts to address key environmental concerns which have been repeatedly flagged by both the industry and wider general public. The bill will shake up the industry and should boost recycling rates as well as tackle plastic pollution. It proposes a multitude of radical proposals which would significantly affect both businesses and individuals on a day to day basis,” Gregory said.

“Despite criticism from the industry and environmental groups alike that these proposals do not go far enough, these proposals undoubtedly offer real potential to move in the right direction towards a more environmentally friendly way of life within the UK. These ambitious measures follow in the footsteps of the success story that is the carrier bag charge and present an opportunity to considerably change the generation of waste,” Gregory said.

Other proposals within the bill aimed at cutting down on packaging and other waste include better product labelling to enable consumers to make better buying decisions and dispose of used products and packaging more effectively.

The legislation follows a period of consultation earlier this year and the announcement of the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy last December.

The bill also includes measures aimed at improving air quality and protecting water resources. The legislation allows for the establishment of a new independent watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, which will be able to hold government and other public bodies to account on fulfilling their obligations on the environment and climate change.