packaging recycling

The government is delaying its flagship environmental policy of extended producer responsibility for at least a year, amid warnings from the industry the scheme will drive up food prices.

The Grocer revealed earlier this month that the controversial plans were likely to be shelved. This followed months of campaigning by retailers and suppliers, who warned the plans to make the industry responsible for the cost of recycling would saddle it with £2bn a year in extra costs.

Although Defra had officially denied the reports at the time, a statement went up on its website today, which read: “There’s been a decision to defer extended producer responsibility for packaging fees for one year. This update reflects that, and also explains that other timescales have not changed – producers still have to report packaging data for 2023.”

It is understood Defra has since tried to remove the official announcement with plans for a formal release on Friday. However, it has been confirmed that fees due to start in October 2024 will now not be applicable until at least October 2025, with talks set to involve a radical rethink of the plans.

Sources suggested the government would bill the backtrack as part of an effort to stop environmental plans hitting hard-pressed consumers in the pocket.

Industry sources cited today’s handling of the announcement as a case of Defra bungling. However, they added it was a relief that their calls for the government to “go back to the drawing board” had finally been listened to.

The Grocer has previously revealed the government is also believed to be considering announcing a further delay to the rollout of another flagship environmental policy, the launch of a deposit return scheme. This is due in October 2025, with supermarket bosses leading calls for it to be shelved, or scrapped entirely.

The delays to EPR come amid huge controversy over alleged government backpedalling on various key green policies, with experts warning the UK is in grave danger of missing its key carbon reduction targets.

However, one of the key criticisms of the industry is that Defra had failed to earmark how the costs of EPR would be pumped in to struggling local authority recycling facilities.

An industry source said: “We welcome the decision to delay EPR, which would have driven up food prices without any ringfencing of the €£2bn cost to the industry towards improving the infrastructure for recycling.”

However, Recycling Association CEO Paul Sanderson added: “This further delay to the implementation of extended producer responsibility is unbelievable.

“We’ve been waiting too long for EPR and consistency of collections to be introduced, and we need to get on with it.

“Both of these policies have the potential to transform the UK recycling landscape, and provide essential funds to develop UK infrastructure. We’ve had too many years of drift already since these policies were first announced in 2018, and now it seems we won’t get any further until at least 2025. That is too long, especially as much of the detail should have long been worked out.”

Lee Marshall, policy and external affairs director at the Chartered Body For Waste & Resource Professionals, said: “After raising our concerns directly with the prime minister just last month, CIWM is disappointed to learn that EPR for packaging fees have been deferred for a year.

“While this is not altogether surprising, we believe this delay will have a significant impact, resulting in the public continuing to bear the cost of packaging recycling and disposal, less investment in recycling infrastructure due to a loss of confidence in the legislative framework, and a significant slowing of the UK’s green economy.

“Today, we reiterate our call for government to press ahead with executing the reforms on EPR and consistent collections.

“The sector is ready, willing and able to implement them and bring about the step-change in recycling rates that they are designed to deliver. This is a valuable opportunity for the UK to show strong leadership and demonstrate its commitment to lead on combating climate change, and CIWM stands ready to support as we continue our journey to a world beyond waste.”