EPR and the carbon: recycling equation

Last month, the government took a decisive step towards its net zero target by introducing a new climate change commitment requiring the UK to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035.

As the first major economy to pass net zero emissions law, the UK has already shown leadership. Setting interim targets demonstrates the need to act now if we are to meet our goals in 29 years’ time.

Government policy has been driven by recommendations from the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC), which is chaired by Valpak’s chairman, Lord Deben. The committee is clear that net zero success depends on the steps taken over the next 10 years, with the 2020s being the decisive decade of progress and action.

The CCC says low-carbon investment must scale up to £50 billion a year in the UK but that, over time, fuel savings from more efficient equipment will cancel out investment costs. While individual businesses – and members of the public – are expected to step up by switching to electric transport, low-carbon heating and renewable electricity, recycling can also make a major contribution to carbon reduction. Recycling aluminium cans, for example, saves 97% of the greenhouse gases produced in the primary production process.

According to RECOUP, in 2017, local authorities across the UK recycled a record half a million tonnes of plastic packaging. European Commission research* shows that manufacturing PET trays using 100% recycled material would cut carbon by 24%, so it is clear that investing in recycling is an important strategy in the journey to net zero.

The current consultation on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), with its focus on modulated fees, supports this approach. Under the new system, where packaging producers will be responsible for 100% of net cost of recycling – including local authority collections – costs will rise significantly. Modulated fees will reward those producers that place easily-recycled material onto the market, and penalise more problematic products.

Valpak’s packaging database contains 33 million stock-keeping units or individual types of packaging, and we are already using the information we hold to help brands assess the environmental impact of their products and make changes. This might mean identifying those products which use problematic coloured plastics, or working to individual brand targets. Often, these focus on carbon impact.

Under the existing packaging recovery note (PRN) system, products are listed by material, with no requirements to assess recyclability. Even simple packaging items often consist of multiple features like labels or inserts, made from different materials. To build a data set able to inform producers on the recyclability of each item, we need to start now.

The costs of EPR lie with manufacturers and brands, but the effects will be felt throughout the supply chain. The aim is to create a market where more easily-recycled materials are rewarded. This should lead to more standardised products which will, in turn, drive a more carbon-efficient recycling service.



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