Plastic waste

The government has called on industry to take part in crisis talks to salvage its under-fire flagship environmental policy Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), amid fears it will end up as an expensive disaster, The Grocer can reveal.

The move, which comes a week after supermarket and retail leaders called on the government to pause the policy for at least a year to avoid huge extra costs and drive up consumer prices, is being seen as a last-ditch attempt to save the strategy.

The Grocer has seen a letter from environment secretary Thérèse Coffey asking business leaders to attend a series of workshops, in which they would be asked to thrash out alternative plans for delivery, saying she wanted them to happen “at pace” .

In the letter she said: “We recognise that secreting value for money for producers is essential in delivering the outcomes that we want to achieve.”

Coffey said the meetings would be an opportunity for the industry to “co-design the delivery of the scheme to achieve those outcomes”, adding: “I fully understand your concerns about the cost of delivery, so I encourage you to take up this opportunity.”

The environment secretary’s intervention comes after a concerted attempt by industry to torpedo the government’s existing plans for EPR.

The government has been consulting for four years on its plans to make the industry responsible for packaging they place on the UK market, with the scheme due to come into force in 2024.

It is understood 20 industry bodies, including the BRC and FDF, wrote to then-environment secretary Ranil Jayawardena in September urging the government to rethink its plans.

Last week the BRC told ministers regulation, including the proposed rollout of EPR, should be put on hold so supermarkets could focus on keeping prices down.

In evidence to MPs, the FDF accused ministers of “not taking industry views on board”.

It said whilst the best-performing EPR schemes in Europe had integrated packaging producers into the planning and execution of their schemes, the UK has opted for a scheme administrator based in the public sector with industry placed at “arm’s length”.

It added: “The countries around the world with the best scheme administrators all draw directly on the expertise of producers, which are experienced in managing highly complex supply chains and logistics.

“This in our view will lead to suboptimal outcomes that won’t fully deliver on the environmental goals of government or producers in the most efficient and cost-effective way.”

 A source told The Grocer: “Time is running out for the government to redesign EPR if it is to avoid a huge cost to industry, which will inevitably be passed on. Businesses are already starting to look at the costs they will incur preparing for EPR next year.”

Environment minister Rebecca Pow has been tasked with overseeing the meetings with industry.