Extended producer responsibility. What does it mean for local authorities?

The UK is undergoing a major overhaul of packaging producer responsibility legislation, which will transform the way local authorities receive funding for household waste collections.

Upcoming reforms to the Packaging Waste Regulations represent the most significant alteration since they were implemented in 1997. Reforms seek to introduce principles of extended producer responsibility (EPR) to the UK’s packaging waste management sector and will, primarily, see the cost burden of collecting householders’ packaging waste shift from local taxpayers to the producers of packaged products.

When considered in combination with producers’ retained responsibility to finance the recycling of packaging waste (currently done through purchasing of Packaging Waste Recovery Notes (PRNs), it is hoped that EPR reform will work alongside the complementary Consistent Collections Frameworks, Plastic Packaging Tax and Deposit Return Schemes to boost national recycling rates and incentivise greater use of recycled packaging materials.

 

At face value, local authorities will be largely supportive of the upcoming reforms, with shifting cost burdens potentially loosening the budgetary restraints placed on local government and the public services they deliver. That said, EPR reforms will not simply entail a one-way transaction from producers to local authorities. The amounts received for waste collections are likely to involve greater scrutiny, to ensure that they drive efficient service delivery and improvements in the quality of material recovered.

Although final details of the government’s reformed system remain unannounced, it is expected that payments to local authorities will be calculated from central methodologies that take into account a range of socio-economic and geographic factors. For example, we know that population size and density cause understandable variations in waste collection costs for local authorities.

Payments are likely only to fund waste collections at a minimum service level, although we may also see financial incentives to increase the efficiency and productivity of collections services built into these methodologies. To justify any expenses claimed, waste collectors are likely to be required to regularly report on their operations, use of funding and material yields and, where necessary, provide evidence of the need for further funding.

Looking ahead, with the Consistent Collections Framework unlikely to be prescriptive on the precise methods used to collect a nationally-consistent set of recyclable materials from households, the costs associated with collecting waste are still likely to vary across local authorities even after the reformed system comes into place during the 2023/24 financial year.

 

It will remain to be seen how any new, centrally-determined formulas will ensure an equitable distribution of funding and prevent large-scale funding gaps. All eyes are now firmly on Defra ahead of the imminent publication of its updated proposals for introducing EPR to the UK’s packaging waste management sector.

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