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Navigating the UK Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Landscape

For businesses across the UK, understanding the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is no longer just a matter of environmental stewardship; it’s a legislative imperative. If you’re involved in the packaging sector, you’re undoubtedly aware of the ongoing conversations about EPR, but a recent update has added new dimensions to the discourse.

Who is Affected by the EPR Legislation?

The EPR legislation impacts a significant portion of organisations in the UK. Any organisation that handles over 25 tonnes of packaging in a year and has a turnover of £1 million or more (based on your most recent annual accounts) will be affected. Whether your business is purchasing packaging for products or producing packaging to sell to other companies, the 25 tonnes per year threshold is critical. Once you cross this line, you are identified as a “producer,” bringing about specific responsibilities.

What are the Producer Responsibilities?

According to the UK Government, what you need to do depends on whether you are classed as a ‘small’ or ‘large’ organisation, and this is based on your annual turnover and how much packaging you supply or import each year.

You’re classed as a small organisation if either of the following apply:

  • Your annual turnover is between £1 million and £2 million and you’re responsible for supplying or importing more than 25 tonnes of empty packaging or packaged goods in the UK
  • Your annual turnover is over £1 million and you’re responsible for supplying or importing between 25 tonnes and 50 tonnes of empty packaging or packaged goods in the UK

You will be classed as a large organisation if both of the following apply:

  • You have an annual turnover of £2 million or more
  • You’re responsible for supplying or importing more than 50 tonnes of empty packaging or packaged goods in the UK

You should base your annual turnover on your most recent annual accounts.

Your total weight is the amount of packaging in a calendar year (January to December) that you:

  • Supplied through the UK market
  • Imported, emptied and then discarded in the UK

If you’re a small organisation:

To comply with the regulations, you must:

  • Record data about all the empty packaging and packaged goods you supply or import in the UK from either 1 January 2023 or 1 March 2023
  • Create an account for your organisation from January 2024
  • Pay a charge to the environmental regulator from 2024
  • Report data about empty packaging and packaged goods you supplied or imported
  • You’ll need to report your data by 1 April 2024

If you’re a large organisation:

To comply with the regulations, you may need to:

  • Record data about the empty packaging and packaged goods you supply or import in the UK from either 1 January 2023 or 1 March 2023 (for more information about this see the section about ‘when to collect and report your data for 2023’)
  • Create an account for your organisation
  • Pay a waste management fee. Your waste management fee will initially be calculated based on packaging you’ve reported as ‘household packaging’.
  • Pay scheme administrator costs
  • Pay a charge to the environmental regulator
  • Get PRNs or PERNs to meet your recycling obligations
  • Report data about empty packaging and packaged goods you supplied or imported
  • You’ll need to report data every 6 months
  • For the period July to December 2023, report data before 1 April 2024.

Further details can be found in the Government’s guidance, ‘Extended producer responsibility for packaging: who is affected and what to do

Latest Update from DEFRA:

A recent press release from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and Rebecca Pow MP, dated 25 July 2023, has outlined some changes and clarifications to the implementation timeline of the EPR.

The primary takeaway is the deferment of the scheme for a year until October 2025. This decision comes after extensive consultation with the industry and given the economic pressures currently facing both consumers and businesses. However, the timescales mentioned in the earlier sections of this post have not changed – producers still have to report packaging data for 2023.

Key points from the press release include:

  • The government will utilise the extra year to refine the scheme’s design, focusing on reducing implementation costs and avoiding burdening households with those costs.
  • Despite the deferment, there’s a silver lining. Many producers have already started transitioning to more recyclable packaging formats and are using less packaging overall. This trend is expected to continue.
  • This decision aligns with efforts by the devolved administrations, offering industry players, local authorities, and waste management entities ample time to prepare.

The Bigger Picture

Beyond EPR, the UK government remains firmly committed to several environmental goals:

  • Eliminating all avoidable waste by 2050.
  • Achieving a 65% recycling rate for municipal waste by 2035.
  • Implementing other critical measures, such as taxing plastic packaging without a minimum of 30% recycled content and introducing bans on certain single-use plastic items.

The landscape of packaging and recycling in the UK is evolving, driven by both environmental imperatives and regulatory frameworks. For businesses, staying informed and prepared is not just about compliance; it’s about leading in an era of sustainable growth. While the deferment offers a reprieve, it also provides a window for businesses to align strategies, processes, and partnerships to embrace the forthcoming EPR changes wholeheartedly.