Nick Oettinger, managing director of The Furniture Recycling Group.

Environment Bill Needs to Take EPR Beyond Packaging – Mattresses Anyone?

OPINION: Resource Efficiency Standards Needed to Drive Design for Recyclability

Nick Oettinger, managing director of The Furniture Recycling Group, argues that the UK government is taking ‘the easy route’ by making taxpayers, not producers, pick up the tab in the fight against waste…

Nick Oettinger, managing director of The Furniture Recycling Group, argues that the UK government is taking ‘the easy route’ by making taxpayers, not producers, pick up the tab in the fight against waste…

After the announcement of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan in January 2018, it was clear there was always going to be a huge focus on plastic waste within the Environment Bill. 

It also seems like the government is taking the easy route by making the taxpayers, rather than producers part with their hard-earned money once again. This can be evidenced with the proposed introduction of charges for single-use plastic items, as a result of the success of the carrier bag charge. 

The focus on setting resource-efficiency standards for products to drive a shift in the market towards easily recyclable products is something I’ve been calling on for a while. If all products were designed and made with recyclability in mind, we could eliminate many of the issues associated with recycling, the landfill crisis and product disposal. 

As a nation, we need to put more pressure on our manufacturers and retailers to make products fully recyclable, also think about how they will capture their waste to recycle or reuse it. Years ago, some companies used to offer customers financial incentives to return bottles and other materials. This is a much fairer and longer-term solution, rather than relying on consumers with initiatives such as the latte levy and the 5p plastic bag tax.

While the Environment Bill does include plans for implementing producer responsibility, it currently only extends to packaging. The legislation needs to force producers and manufacturers of all products to consider the end of life of their goods right from the early stages of the design process.

The need for this is evident in relation to bulky waste, something that is continually overlooked by the government. Currently, over seven million mattresses go to landfill each year in the UK, which is enough to fill Wembley Stadium five times over!

With the current rate of waste that is being sent to landfill, England’s landfill sites could burst their banks by 2022 if nothing is done to stem the flow of waste being sent there. Once landfill is full, what are we going to do with all our bulky waste? We will be left with mattress mountains! 

The bill should also deal with incineration within our borders. Really, we should be using our waste effectively, such as to power our homes, and whatever we can’t find a use for, only then should it be incinerated. Currently, we send waste to be incinerated to other countries, but we can’t keep doing this. If the government does decide to introduce our own Clean Air Bill, we don’t want to just achieve this by sending our waste to become another country’s problem. Afterall, we all live in the same world. 

While it’s great that the government is taking our environment seriously with the introduction of the first Environment Bill in over 20 years, it’s a real shame that the opportunity to tackle bulky waste, such as mattresses, has still been missed. 

Following its recent second reading in parliament, we’re getting one step closer to the landmark Environment Bill becoming law. However, the news of a snap general election on the 12th December this year means the Environment Bill will have to be reintroduced in the next Parliament. Depending on the outcome of the election, there is always the risk of it being scrapped altogether. I hope that whichever party is elected into government does continue forward with the landmark Environment Bill.

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