plastic bottles in plastic packaging
Published date: 16 March 2022

Stop ‘kicking the can’ on making polluters pay, NLWA urges the UK government

North London Waste Authority (NLWA) is calling on the UK Government to reinstate the 2023 start date for the new ‘polluter pays’ legislation on packaging, which was meant to make manufacturers rather than council taxpayers liable for disposal costs. NLWA also calls on the government to extend the legislation to difficult-to-recycle products such as mattresses and carpets, as well as short-lived, unrecyclable items like wet wipes and single-use nappies.
A more extensive system would put more money in the hands of councils and communities to fund waste prevention projects such as ‘repair cafes’ and expanded doorstep recycling services such as separate food waste collections. It would accelerate the transition to a more circular economy where unsustainable waste is prevented in the first place and drive the crucial change that’s required to help stem the worst impacts of the Climate Emergency, as well as the pollution and biodiversity crises.
Known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), the new legislation was due to be rolled out in 2023, following announcements in 2018 and consultations in 2019 and 2021, but earlier this month, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs announced its delay. No new date has been set. 

Under the new rules, producers were meant to pay the full net costs of disposal for the vast swathes of often unecological packaging they use to wrap, sell, and transport products, with councils being the recipient of that money. The unacceptable delay means that council taxpayers will continue to have to foot the bill instead.

NLWA’s priority is preventing waste in the first place. While the UK government procrastinates, NLWA is increasing its support for waste prevention initiatives across the seven boroughs it serves. For example, it is doubling its annual Waste Prevention Community Fund for 2022-23 to £120,000. The fund awards grants to community groups who are working to prevent waste in their local areas and the next round opens in Autumn 2022.
NLWA is also working on a new residual waste reduction plan – a programme of community engagement projects and campaigns to help reduce the vast volumes of waste currently being chucked away. NLWA is speaking to community groups, teachers, residents, and councils to ensure it can maximise its reach and impact.

Cllr Clyde Loakes, NLWA Chair, said: “This legislation and the passporting of the funds to councils was a welcome initiative, but now the Government is just kicking the can down the road. The delay on EPR is very regrettable – why should council taxpayers have to continue to pay for producers to make profits on products with unsustainable packaging or products that don’t last, are poorly designed and are unrepairable? Should common sense and climate sensitive policy initiatives like this really take so long to design and implement? It really isn't good enough. 
“There are producers who have dramatically improved their packaging and product design, but they are still the exception. Sustainable packaging must become the norm. EPR would help bring about a sea change in design, ensuring that products and packaging are more sustainable and recyclable, as well as helping councils fund the service and behavioural change initiatives that are required in their local areas, to secure a step change in how we view our waste.
“We also need a commitment that money raised from EPR – expected to be about £1 billion – all goes to local government. This would allow proceeds from the levy to be ringfenced for waste prevention initiatives as well as measures to help remove the structural barriers to recycling, which are stalling rates across London.”

As well as EPR implementation, NLWA is calling for the following interim measures to be urgently introduced:

  • Conduct a consultation in 2022 on extending EPR to difficult-to-recycle large items such as mattresses, tyres, DIY waste and carpets.
  • Extend EPR to short-lived items such as nappies, wet wipes, cigarettes, chewing gum, and plant pots.
  • Introduce a 50p charge on disposable coffee cups to encourage the switch to reusables. 2.5 billion cups are used and chucked away in the UK each year. An easy win, a charge could reduce usage by 95%, as the plastic bag charge has done.
  • Give local authorities the necessary funding and powers to make recycling compulsory. This would help prevent valuable recyclables from being contaminated in black bin bag waste and boost the resources for the circular economy.
  • Increase the current packaging levy (Packaging Recovery Note) from 10% to 30% in the interim and give funds to local councils for waste prevention initiatives as well as to help councils improve and extend reuse, repair, and recycling services.