Extended Producer Responsibility formulator Thomas Lindquist has called on the UK government to look beyond the money flow and embrace its responsibilities, as Defra looks to reboot the delayed waste and recycling reforms, writes ecoveritas.
In late July, EPR fees for packaging converters, producers, and suppliers were delayed a year, from October 2024 to 2025, with the wider system, including the collection and reporting of packaging data for 2023, remaining a live requirement and due on October 1.
The government blamed economic pressures for the delay but said it would use the time to finalise plans for the scheme’s implementation with local government, businesses, and waste management companies.
Lindquist, currently a senior lecturer at The International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University in Sweden, introduced the concept of EPR in the 1990s and believes the UK is missing a driving force.
“The UK must understand that you need someone steering this,” Lindquist told Ecoveritas.com. “Someone who has formalism, power, or somebody who says the industry wants this, local authorities want that, but we have some goals, which is a reasonable way of achieving those.
And this is how you can calculate the costs.
“I’m not sure that it must be the same cost, but you must be able to calculate it objectively. That’s what I think you need. And if the government doesn’t want to take responsibility, you will have a problem.”
Defra’s statement read: “Following extensive engagement with industry, and in light of the pressure facing consumers and businesses in the current economic context, new rules to ensure packaging producers pay for the cost of recycling their packaging will be deferred a year from October 2024 to 2025.”
While the department has said its decision to delay the rollout of EPR will help to drive down inflation, campaigners have described it as an “utterly cynical move”.
Lindquist believes that if the UK is to stay competitive and manage crises, there needs to be a different kind of thinking.
“The true economist would say that you shouldn’t think about your nation in these cases because it’s a big system,” he added.
“If we want to stay competitive and manage crises, we must think differently about these issues.
“I’ve noticed in Sweden and some other countries that it’s mainly professional economists talking about this. They have this training of looking at efficiency. But maybe they are forgetting what efficiency means and are just looking at the money flow.
“But if you start to look at the wider picture, I think this is still very cheap for people, and in European countries, we are not spending a lot of money on this.
“The difference [between cost-of-living/inflation and the proposed costs] is very small.
Almost everything we pay for in waste management is collection. And collection costs don’t have to be so different.”
Ecoveritas CEO Irvin Newbitt added: “Finger-pointing gets you nowhere, but essentially, this policy has continually struggled to find the appropriate in-tray, never mind the kind of political will from senior politicians required to get this over the line. It has never had its fair share of focus—a dedicated driving force. Instead, civil servants have spent months desperately trying to Sellotape and glue it back together before ultimately realising that this hotch-potch iteration wouldn’t work and ‘mission make-do-and-mend’ had run out of road. That is the sad reality. And that is the genesis of where we are today.
“Of primary concern was the risk the recycling levy poses to already soaring inflation. But this has always been a very predictable smoke screen. And when you contrast the industry’s position with the urgency of the climate crisis, whatever way you look at it, these are damaging actions.”