With low recycling rates in England being a huge and increasing challenge, the concepts of extended producer responsibiity (EPR) offer an opportunity. In England, the recycling rate has stagnated at around 44%, compared for example, with Wales which has seen its recycling and composting rate for 2015/6 rise to 59%, compared to 56% for 2014/5.
The concepts of producer responsibility have been in place in the UK for sometime (e.g. for packaging and end of life vehicles). However, EPR forms a key component of the European Union’s (EU) Circular Economy Package. The Package sets out the general requirements for EPR schemes in the EU to undertake “necessary measures” to ensure that the financial contribution of producers “covers the entire cost of waste management” (i.e. collection, sorting and treatment). Such an approach could potentially lead to significant benefits in terms of the development of more sustainable product designs, investment in infrastructure (e.g. recyclate collection systems), stability of secondary markets, and encouragement for enhanced (re)manufacturing. As can be seen these benefits go beyond the potential for improving recycling.
Across the UK, local authorities are grappling with significant budget cuts and more and more councils are seeking to find ways of improving efficiencies. One of these approaches has been reduction in the frequency of collection of residual waste as a means of reducing costs. Coupled with these budgetary constraints has been the volality in the markets for secondary products. And of course in recent weeks the ‘small matter’ of Brexit has added to this rather toxic mix.
Given the challenges faced and the potential benefits that might be accrued from incorporation of EPR, it is hoped that during the Brexit negotiations in the coming months and years, that the UK (especially England), will seek to fully embrace the concepts of EPR as a means of moving towards a more ‘circular approach’ to managing its resources.