Reward businesses for reducing packaging, think tank says

9th January 2017

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  • Waste ,
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Andrew McKenzie

Manufacturers should be rewarded for designing less wasteful packaging, using recycled materials and encouraging customers to recycle, the Green Alliance has said.

Local authorities in England spend around £300m a year dealing with waste packaging, but have no control over how products are designed or packaged, or how residents use recycling services, the alliance said.

The think tank has added its voice to calls by local authorities and the waste industry for more responsibility for recycling to fall on producers to relieve the burden on councils. Government data revealed that the overall recycling rate in England fell for the first time in 2015, having risen steadily since 2001.

The alliance looked at how the system could be improved on behalf of the Circular Economy Task Force, the business group it convenes, drawing on examples of waste systems used by other countries. France varies how much producers pay towards dealing with packaging waste according to the recyclability and recycled content of their packaging, a system the alliance believes would work in the UK. Producer responsibility schemes should reward design that encourages waste prevention, reuse, recyclability, greater use of recycled content and public recycling campaigns, it said.

In its report, the alliance also recommended that producers be given greater influence over the design of producer responsibility schemes to ensure cost-effective collections in return for paying a greater share of the costs. In Belgium, making the private sector fully responsible for designing collection systems has led to higher recycling rates than in England at a 25% lower cost, the alliance pointed out.

However, it doubts that these principles can be retrofitted onto the UK’s current market-based approach to producer responsibility. The UK’s packaging recovery note system was never intended to internalise all the costs of packaging wastes, and incentives to design for waste prevention have only been introduced in countries where there is a uniform set of tariffs, it said.

Brexit provided the opportunity to design a new system for dealing with waste, the alliance said. England has mostly followed EU policy for waste and resources rather than developing its own strategy, as Scotland and Wales have done. This has led to a patchwork of regulation, leading to inefficient waste and recycling collection and processing systems, it said.

If the UK leaves both the EU and the single market, the task for England to develop its own waste and resources strategy will be complex, but it could lead to a system driven by what makes sense economically rather than what is necessary to meet EU targets.

The alliance also recommended that councils charge more to residents who waste more, which would cut its costs and make the system fairer for those who recycle properly. Councils should standardise collection systems to stop confusion over what can and cannot be recycled, it added.

Green Alliance senior policy adviser Jonny Hazell said: ‘Recycling in England has become dysfunctional. A more consistent system would cost less and be fairer for all. It would also guarantee that British manufacturers get more of the high quality recycled materials they need and reduce their dependence on imports.’


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