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Reform of the UK's Packaging Producer Responsibility System

The Scottish, Welsh and UK governments' consultation on reform of the UK-wide and more than 20 year old Packaging Producer Responsibility System ended on 13th May. Leading up to this, stakeholders expressed concerns over the system's transparency including how income from the sale of evidence has supported packaging waste recycling, that local authorities receive limited direct financial support for managing packaging waste, and that there is not a level playing field for domestic reprocessing.  Our governments want to address those issues and also want the coming reform to result in;

  1. substantial reduction in packaging that's unecessary and difficult to recycle,
  2. a higher percentage of packaging designed to be recyclable,
  3. a higher percentage of packaging being made from recycled material,
  4. people and businesses finding it easier to recycle their packaging waste,
  5. a higher percentage of packaging wastes being recycled, and
  6. fewer packaging items becoming littered.

The REA's response to this consultation answered its many questions and particularly focussed on how compostable packaging could be more appropriately included in the revised system. We believe that the compostable packaging supply chain (e.g. packaging designers, packaging manufacturers, packaging distributors, packaging fillers and organisations that sell or supply products packaged in compostable packaging) should contribute to the Packaging Producer Responsibility System financially and to its long-term development.

The REA called for the following in response to the consultation:

1.      modulated fees should be adopted and fee levels should link clearly with 'approved list' recyclable packaging materials/formats and 'off-list' non-recyclable packaging materials/formats (governments intend that fees will  'reflect the costs of their management at end of life');

2.      responsibility for compliance should remain on a shared responsibility basis (amongst packaging designers, manufacturers, packaging supply chain companies and business buyers of packaged products);

3.      obligated producers/parties should be required to fund the Full Net Recovery Costs of collecting and managing all consumer-facing packaging waste;

4.      the definition of Full Net Cost Recovery to be made appropriate for compostable packaging;

5.      the revised system should be governed using a hybrid model which predominantly blends the characteristics of the governments' proposed models 1 and 2 (we supported the hybrid model proposed by Ecosurety, a packaging compliance scheme operator, at https://www.ecosurety.com/centralised-competition-model/);

6.      independently certified compostable packaging made from any type of material* should be allowed to be recycled in composting or anaerobic digestion facilities that comply with end-of-waste criteria (respectively for composts, digestates and biogas);

7.      the UK nations' end-of-waste criteria for waste-derived digestates should be reviewed in terms of which compostable packaging and non-packaging products can be fed through appropriate anaerobic digestion systems (e.g. 'dry' AD with a following phase of composting) and which products must be independently certified compostable;

8.      consumer-facing bin and caddie liners and sacks/bags for containing consumers' wastes should become included in what is legally defined as packaging;

9.      compostable paper cups that are sold empty should become included in what is legally defined as packaging, where they include a plastic-like, compostable lining;

10.   an approved list of organically recyclable packaging should be established (and we proposed fundamental elements for determining if packaging is organically recyclable, see our answer to question 14);

11.   that the revised packaging system's provisions for compostable packaging need to work in conjunction with any non-packaging system rules that control which types of waste can be co-collected with source separated biodegradable wastes (e.g. that compostable packaging is allowed to be co-collected with food waste, food and garden waste, and garden waste in England's future service standards applicable to local authorities);

12.   system delivery outcomes should include 'that there is sufficient capacity in the UK for organic recycling of compostable packaging';

13.   local authorities should be paid for collecting and managing household packaging waste based on the quantity and quality of target packaging materials they collect for dry-recycling and organic recycling;

14.  calculation of obligated producer/party payments to local authorities for collecting and managing packaging wastes should:

                      a.      not reduce the payments by subtracting sales revenue to compost/digestate producers that arises when selling compost/digestate products, and

b.      include the costs of co-collecting an adequate amount of biodegradable, non-packaging waste and paying for its organic recycling (because some of this waste is needed for successful biodegradation of the compostable packaging);

15. obligated producers/parties' payments into the system should be used to;

a.       improve the management of packaging waste generated on-the-go,

b.      support local service related communications delivered by local authorities, and

c.       support nationally-led communications campaigns in each nation;

16.   obligated producers/parties' payments into the system for:

a.      compostable plastic-like products  should be equivalent to those for recyclable plastics (e.g. PRNs for plastic were between £125 and £175 / tonne in March 2019),

b.    compostable cellulosic products (e.g. paper and bagasse) should be equivalent to those for recyclable paper (e.g. PRNs for paper are currently between £17 and £23 / tonne in March 2019);

17. Packaging Recovery Note income per tonne of compostable packaging organically recycled should [at least] cover the costs of biodegrading that packaging and the costs of biodegrading an amount of biodegradable non-packaging waste that needs to be co-biodegraded with the compostable packaging;

18. government should consider whether and how organics recyclers would be financially compensated for the costs they incur when removing any non-compostable packaging (from a biodegradable waste stream that includes compostable packaging) and sending it for recovery or disposal;

19. government should consider that fees applicable to registered reprocessors of compostable packaging (e.g. composters) may need to be different as too may the 400 tonne threshold that separates small reprocessors from larger ones; 

20. that compostable packaging labelling:

a.       states the waste types that compostable packaging is suitable to be recycled with (see our answers to consultation question 6),

b.      includes the certification mark of the independent certification body that has certified the product, and

c.       includes the product's certification code; and

21. government should work with industry on whether compostable packaging labelling should include a 'check locally' type of instruction alongside the 'recyclable with...' part of its labelling.


* According to current the UK environment agencies' 'Agreed positions and Technical Interpretations - Producer Responsibility for Packaging' guidance, cellulose based packaging is recognised as having been recycled if it's composted or digested in a facility that complies with end-of-waste criteria but 'compostable/bio-degradable plastics made of plant based products' are only recognised as being recovered if they are composted or digested one of those facilities.


The REA also called for targeting of the applications appropriate for compostable packaging; for our list of targeted applications see our answer to consultation question 50.  Targeting is important because it should aim to keep the amount of compostable packaging waste manageable within organic recycling facilities that produce end-of-waste composts, digestates and biogas and within other non-end-of-waste composting and AD facilities that biodegrade such packaging under a recovery classification.  

We also answered consultation questions about whether the packaging's recycled content percentage should be stated on that packaging (in answer to 41), outlined assessment and certification marking of bio-based content in products (in answer to question 43) and recommended that;

1.      the percentage of bio-based carbon (biomass/plant-based) in compostable plastic-like packaging is stated on those products or made available elsewhere (in answer to question 42), and 

2.      government talks with industry about the relevance of bio-based content in the range of consumer-facing packaging and if it is decided relevant, how it should be communicated to them and/or be included in product labelling (in answer to question 78).

We intend to work with the BBIA and Renewable Energy Assurance Ltd on developing labelling guidance and believe it should cover: certification of packaging (and non-packaging) product conformance to relevant biodegradation standards, correct disposal after use, certification of bio-based content, a more consistent look that works across the range of product types, the current certification marks licenced for use by the relevant certification bodies, and the steps that have been and could/should be taken towards using a single certification mark in the UK in future.


More information

Click HERE for the governments' consultation document and HERE for their impact assessment.

Click HERE for the REA's response to this consultation.

Click HERE to link to the BBIA's webpage about its response to this consultation - see documents under 'EPR'.  The REA and some of the BBIA's other members reviewed and commented on drafts of their written submission.

REA members and others who want to discuss compostable packaging in the context of the current and future Packaging Producer Responsibility System are welcome to contact Emily Nichols (emily@r-e-a.net, 07771 556231).


Webpage published: 17/05/2019


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