Recycling : UK food lobby vetoes government’s EPR proposal

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The food manufacturing sector is set to oppose the UK’s government’s extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws.

Said legislation aims to transfer the cost of waste pollution to companies that generate it in the first place by making them pay for services such as litter picking and business waste disposal.

Yet, according to David Bellamy, environment policy manager at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), this will have a detrimental impact on consumers in form of a hike in food prices.

The FDF, the official voice of the UK’s food and drinks industry, argued that an extra £2,7 billion costs imposed by the new legislation coupled with the cost of a new plastic packaging tax and deposit return scheme would result in a rise in household food and drink bills going up to as much as £125 per year.

2023 is the intended target date for the implementation of the government’s EPR proposals, as outlined in the UK Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture (Defra) consultation document on the subject.

In the global drive towards green growth and a circular economy, EPR is increasingly being touted as an effective waste management policy in the European context whilst slowly gaining traction in Asia, Africa and South America. With the Ellen McArthur Foundation calling it ‘the only proven pathway to recycling’, the concept has informed everything from national zero waste packaging schemes to the sustainability measures undertaken by multinational businesses to lessen their individual ecological footprints.

Existing packaging legislation already ensures that UK manufacturers contribute their own share towards material recovery and recycling. These initiatives have helped push recycling rates of packaging waste in the country from 25% two decades ago to 64% in 2017. Nonetheless, the UK’s municipal recycling rate still lags behind top European recycling nations such as Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands-in 2018, 44,1% of waste was recycled in the country which is below the EU average of 47%.

The UK government intends to increase the country’s recycling rate to 78% by 2030, consultation on the EPR schemes taking centre stage in its proposed Environment Bill having already concluded in June. Defra argues that producer led EPR will take manufacturers to task for packaging waste across its entire life-cycle-from initial sustainable design considerations to possible waste solutions including the option for reuse and refill.

Campaign group ‘A Plastic Planet’ supported the outlined plans.

Its co-founder Sian Sutherland said: “For too long the guilt of the plastic crisis has been laid on shoppers, while the organisations who are pumping it out have no responsibility whatsoever. Extended producer responsibility is crucial if we’re to meet plastic pollution head on.”

Yet Nicki Hunt, director at FDF, calls out the proposed EPR legislation for the unequal financial burden it would shift on to the shoulders of the food manufacturing sector, which would incur an extra £200m in costs each year for waste processing.

“It’s illegal activity, and this is taking responsibility off local authorities for enforcement and putting it on industry to fund collection and recycling,” she said.