Unpacking Extended Producer Responsibility – What does the legislation mean for SMEs?

Reducing packaging waste is key to securing a more sustainable future and the government is now using new laws to make producers take the issue far more seriously. From 2024, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation will extend producer responsibility for the packaging they place on the market and focus minds on reducing its environmental impact. There has never been a better time to develop a robust sustainability strategy to guarantee compliance, cut costs and gain a competitive edge.

It is estimated that the UK produced a staggering 12.6 million tonnes of packaging waste in 2021. Much of this ends up in landfill, fuels climate change and has a devastating impact on nature’s precious ecosystems. Whilst households are being encouraged to recycle, there is growing focus on those that supply packaging and the principle of “the polluter pays” is starting to influence government strategy.

Policy makers are shifting the emphasis to making producers bear responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their product and the associated environmental costs. For packaging, that means taking responsibility for waste and supporting the circular economy by ensuring resources remain in the value chain.

The government has already introduced the plastic packaging tax which came into force in April 2021 which requires companies to track the amount of packaging they produce and pay according to how much is made from plastic and does not contain at least 30% recycled material. Legislators are now taking this a step further by reforming the existing Packaging Waste Regulations to include making producers responsible for the cost of managing packaging waste.

Stacks of recycled paper in lorry at recycling plant

The scheme will come into effect from January 2024, but qualifying businesses must start collating data from March this year. Those with a turnover of between £1 million and £2 million and which handle between 25 tonnes and 50 tonnes of packaging per annum, have to collect data and report on the packaging they handle or supply. That can be done themselves or through an approved packaging producer compliance scheme.

From July, companies need to register on the EPR for packaging digital platform to report their data. Reporting deadlines will depend on the size of the business. the platform will then calculate the amount of Packaging Waste Recycling Notes (PRNs) and Packaging Waste Export Recycling Notes (PERNs) you need to purchase. Large organisations will also have to pay a waste management fee to the environmental regulator. Missing deadlines could result in penalty charges.

The legislation is expected to cost UK producers around £1.7 billion each year. It is hoped that will be enough to encourage more businesses to reduce their environmental impact and start to employ more sustainable practices. That might mean designing out waste, reducing the amount of packaging produced and/or increasing its recyclability.

By considering the entire lifecycle of their packaging, businesses are forced to reframe how they view their operations. At Wylde Connections, we encourage businesses to change mindsets and view things through a sustainability lens. That not only helps them comply with legislation but start thinking about how they can better balance the demands of People, Profit and Planet.

Considering the triple bottom line brings a multitude of benefits. By collecting data, businesses can gain far greater insight about the impact they are having on the world around them and the amount of resources that are going to waste. If this makes them design out waste and support circularity, they will invariably be more profitable, more competitive and more agile.

At Wylde Connections we are committed to support businesses on their sustainability journey. Help us take you to the next level and find out more about what we have to offer.