Packaging industry try and shirk responsibility for litter

UK Industry lobbying is getting in the way of EU rules to make producers pay for the full cost of packaging waste collection, recycling and disposal, according to media reports. This would leave citizens to pick up the bill for all the cans, bottles and other packaging that are littered or not separately collected.

A letter seen by Unearthed last week revealed that supermarkets, drinks and packaging trade associations lobbied the UK government to oppose EU proposals to strengthen the so-called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) rules, despite Brexit.

They said this would massively increase their costs while having “no net environmental benefit”, adding that “through our respective European Associations we will endeavour to encourage the industry in some other key member states to lobby for a similar approach.”

Under the current rules producers only pay for the recycling of already separately collected packaging, but not for the collection and treatment of packaging that ends up in mixed bins or in the streets and beaches. This means that tax payers are left to pick up the hefty bill for the unsorted packaging that in most cases is burned or buried rather than recycled.

Costs for the treatment of unsorted packaging can be very high due to gate fees for incinerators and landfills. Another problem is that, when waste is not recycled, as it is usually the case for unsorted packaging waste, governments and manufacturers are unable to recover valuable secondary raw materials such as PET pellet or glass cullet.

Piotr Barczak, Waste Policy Officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said:

If producers won’t pay for the treatment of all packaging waste, citizens will have to make up for it. This is deeply unfair considering that these companies run a very profitable business and all is asked of them is to take responsibility for it.”

“What’s worse is that this way we incentivise toxic practices like incineration and landfill, which pose a threat to human health and the environment and undermine the fundamental principles of the circular economy,” Barczak added.

The new proposals put forward by the European institutions insist that producers should be responsible for covering the full cost of treatment, including recycling as well as littering clean up and collection of bin bags in rural areas.

The ball is now in the court of member states. National representatives have been holding meetings in Brussels hoping to reach a compromise that is expected by the end of the year.

But NGOs are concerned that opposition from member states the industry will lead to a less ambitious position being adopted by member states.

EUROPEN, the EU packaging and packaged goods industry association, said that for the last five years, EUROPEN has advocated for strong EPR and that they are being effectively heard, also by national governments.They also said that they are not responsible for what is happening at the national level.

While supporting a more ambitious EPR, it is not clear whether the industry as a whole will support cost coverage of all packaging waste, including disposal and littering.

Barczak said: “Member states need to agree to ambitious EPR schemes that are in the interest of their citizens, like the EU packaging association also seems to suggest.”

A spokesman from Defra, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told Unearthed that “[The government] remains fully engaged in the negotiations on the EU Circular Economy Package and continue to liaise with industry and NGOs on a regular basis.”

However, the EEB said that the UK government refused to disclose their position on the revision of any EU waste law when asked as part of the group’s on-going investigation.

The investigation by the EEB reveals that countries are still divided over their final position on EPR and on other proposals including higher recycling targets by 2030.

Southern countries that generally struggle with waste management such as Greece, Romania, Italy and Spain are calling for producers to cover the full cost of packaging treatment and recycling. This would help them improve their waste management systems, Barczak said.

Some countries are also in favour of introducing modulated fees reflecting the reparability, durability and recyclability of packing, so that the more durable the material, the lower the fee for producers.

A stronger EPR can boost recycling and stimulate smart and more efficient packaging design, something that the EU has been pushing for as part of its Circular Economy strategy.

According to the European Commission’s own assessment, a higher recycling target in the order of 70% would trigger 530,000 new jobs and €72 billion a year in savings across Europe by 2030.