Retailers and food manufacturers across the UK are seeking to delay the controversial extended producer responsibility (EPR) reforms that would force them to pay for the collection and recycling of household packaging waste from next year.
Industry bosses are warning that the change, due to come into effect in April 2024, would drive up consumer’s shopping bills even further amid the cost-of-living crisis.
Last month, the government held a food summit – which was labelled as a ‘PR stunt’ – where supermarket bosses asked ministers to halt the launch of the EPR scheme.
Under the plans, food producers and retailers that sell own-brand products would be obliged to report packaging waste data and pay the full cost of packaging waste disposal.
However, business leaders argue the scheme will cost at least £1.7 billion a year, adding that costs will be passed on to consumers through higher prices on the supermarket shelves.
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In March, environment secretary Thérèse Coffey held an emergency meeting with the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Food and Drink Federation (FDF), along with executives from Marks & Spencer, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Sainsbury’s and Unilever on the rollout of the EPR scheme.
The government first promised to introduce the scheme in 2018, when Michael Gove was environment secretary.
“They should consider delaying the EPR to take that cost out of pricing while inflation remains very high. It would seem to us to be a sensible thing to do,” chief executive of the FDF Karen Betts told The Guardian.
“We’re seeing the government rushing through legislation so they’re not accused of backsliding on environmental commitments.
“But the result is you have a very muddled, confused scheme which we think won’t work. Not only is it going to cost consumers more, but because it’s not ready, it’s even worse,” Betts said.
Councillor Linda Taylor, the environment spokesperson for the Local Government Association, also said that taxpayers “foot the bill for processing the waste, often dealing with excessive packaging and the challenges of material that is difficult to recycle”.
“Councils have been planning for the introduction of EPR in 2024 following previous delays and would be disappointed by another delay creating further uncertainties related to the waste reforms that risk delaying investment,” Taylor concluded.