UK fails to make producers pay for waste

31st August 2011


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  • Electronics ,
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  • Life Cycle Analysis

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IEMA

The UK is missing out on an opportunity to cut waste by failing to pass on the costs of recovering and recycling products to manufacturers and retailers, according to Scottish government advisors.

In a report outlining the potential of “producer responsibility” schemes to ensure Scottish firms are managing waste created at the end of product lifecycles, researchers have criticised UK policy as lacking ambition and failing to understand the basic principles behind the approach.

To be effective in preventing waste, producer responsibility schemes must pass all the costs of recovering and recycling materials to producers, says the report, but in the UK local authorities and taxpayers are paying to deal with the waste.

“Where costs are placed solely on producers, they may pass these on to consumers ... In this way, producer responsibility reflects the polluter pays principle,” states the report. “UK schemes have struggled to come to terms with this fairly straightforward principle.”

The report argues that moves to make producers responsible for recovery and recycling of materials, such as the obligation to take back waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), have been undermined by efforts to minimise the cost of such schemes to industry and by reports misrepresenting the costs to businesses. .

Adapting government policies to ensure the financial burden of waste recovery rests on producers will allow local authorities to make savings and incentivise companies to minimise packaging and to design products with recycling in mind to reduce their costs, says the report.

Another criticism levelled at the UK’s approach is that it only attempts to meet minimum requirements of EU directives, particularly with regards packaging and WEEE.

“Consequently, as Scotland looks ahead to introducing more ambitious policies to manage waste, it seems likely that under the existing UK approach, it would be dependent upon the European Commission announcing more ambitious targets for the EU as a whole,” states the report.

In examining potential producer responsibility schemes for packaging waste, WEEE and end-of-life vehicles, the authors conclude that passing on the costs of meeting the country’s zero waste targets to producers in the first instance is a sensible policy decision that could be extended to other waste streams.

Welcoming the report as helpful guidance for future policy decisions, Scottish environment secretary Richard Lochhead agreed that producers must play a part in preventing waste and encouraging recycling.

“In some European countries where producer responsibility is applied across a range of products and packaging, around 15% of the cost of managing household waste is funded through support from the producer responsibility schemes,”he said.

“A zero waste society shares the responsibility of effectively managing waste. Effective producer responsibility is another step on the journey to a cleaner, greener Scotland.”

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