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Nearly nine out of 10 companies say they are not prepared for the introduction for the government’s flagship environment policy Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), a new poll has found.

A survey of 300 companies by compliance experts Ecoveritas found what it called a “staggering” 86% of companies had yet to establish their data collection procedures for packaging waste, despite being required to by law from this month.

Meanwhile, The Grocer understands the emergency government working group set up by environment secretary Therese Coffey is facing up to 800 unanswered questions from companies and trade bodies.

The latest meeting of the so-called Business Readiness Forum, due to take place on Tuesday, was called off and no further talks are planned until the end of the month.

A supplier source said: “The talks are a total shambles and Defra has gone into complete panic mode. It really is getting to make or break time.”

This week trade bodies including the FDF and the BRC stepped up calls for the plan to be shelved in next week’s budget, with the BRC estimating the combined impact of EPR and DRS will cost the industry £4bn a year.

Ecoveritas said its survey found more than 85% of businesses rated the government’s communication around the legislative changes between one and two, out of a sliding scale of 1-10 where one is poor and 10 is excellent, and 100% rated it lower than four.

“Many businesses face big data challenges when understanding their compliance obligation,” said CEO Andrew McCaffery.

“SMEs in particular who are getting captured by the regulations will struggle to rise to the challenge more than large companies with the resources to engage.

 “It’s fair to say that preparedness is significantly lacking.”

 Another industry source added: “The fact that the business readiness forum has been cancelled says all you need to know.”