wrap packaging waste

EPR will require obligated businesses to cover the full net cost of recycling

The government is warning that thousands of food and drink companies, including a list of household name producers, face legal action over missing packaging data under its controversial extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme.

Defra has told The Grocer the deadline for submitting packaging data, of this Friday (31 May), will not be extended again, despite more than 2,500 of the 6,000 large companies expected to report having so far failed to do so.

It has published a list of companies that had reported data by 20 May – a list that excludes major food firms such as Unilever, Mondelez, Danone and P&G.

Experts told The Grocer a “huge tail” of smaller companies had failed to provide data under EPR, with many still unaware it even existed.

EPR will require obligated businesses to cover the full net cost of recycling. The government has delayed the launch of fees until at least the end of 2025, but has pressed ahead with requiring packaging data.

Companies with an annual turnover of more than £2m, or responsible for handling more than 50 tonnes of empty packaging or packaged goods in the UK, were originally required to submit their data by October 2023. However, in September 2023 the government announced the Environment Agency would not take enforcement action as long as data was submitted before the end of May 2024.

The Grocer understands there are no plans to further extend the deadline, with the government insisting it is a legal requirement and failure to report could risk enforcement action.

The Agency, which is charged with enforcing the scheme, has the power to issue warnings, fines running into tens of thousands of pounds, or prosecute companies who fail to follow EPR rules. However, sources told The Grocer that fining thousands of major companies over lack of take-up for a flagship environmental scheme would be a “huge embarrassment” for the government which it would be desperate to avoid.

“As we approach the first deadline for reporting under EPR, it is clear a significant number of producers have not yet registered,” said Steve Gough, CEO of Valpak by Reconomy.

“A larger number still have failed to submit their data. These businesses must now face any repercussions and focus on preparing for the next phase.”

He added: “While the large household names among these producers will make the headlines, it is important to remember the multitude of smaller businesses also missing from the register.

“The UK has 8,000 small and medium-sized businesses with over 250 employees, many of whom will be obligated under EPR. While we can be sure the larger names will sign up and provide data – albeit slowly – many of the SMEs may still be unaware of their obligation.”

Gough said: “All obligated businesses need to engage, and failure to report data impacts the accuracy and effectiveness of the whole system.

“Whilst the imminent election could have an impact, there is plenty of time within the process to allow the regulations to go through and come into effect for 2025 with no changes.

“Valpak is urging producers of all sizes to register and begin the process of recording data. Any new system will have teething issues, but the sooner businesses become familiar with the regime, the smoother the system will run.”