Waste & Recycling


Reforming the UK packaging producer responsibility system

The current UK producer responsibility system for packaging has been in place since 1997, and stakeholders say the system is in need of radical reform. Here's the policy outline for reform.

Policy rationale

We have had a system of producer responsibility for packaging in place since 1997. This has helped to drive recycling of packaging waste from 25 per cent, 20 years ago to 64.7 per cent in 2016.

Over this period we have met all our UK and EU packaging waste recycling targets, and the cost of compliance to business has been kept low when compared to other Member States. However, like any system that is over 20 years old, it is in need of reform.

Stakeholders have expressed concerns over the transparency of the system 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.

Additionally the UK government and the governments of Scotland and Wales are committed to maximizing value from our resources and minimizing waste through the circular use of materials. In a number of policy documents commitments have been made to exploring ways to better incentivize producers to manage resources more efficiently.

This includes placing responsibility on businesses for the environmental impact of their products and for the full net costs of managing products at end of life.

Our ambitions have increased too and recent months have seen a rise in the public consciousness when it comes to the need to tackle packaging waste. We want unnecessary and difficult-to-recycle packaging to reduce substantially, we want more packaging designed to be recyclable, we want more packaging waste to be recycled and we want more packaging to be made from recycled material. We also want fewer packaging items to be littered and for it to be easier for people and businesses to recycle their packaging waste.

Reforming the packaging waste system fits with these ambitions and the commitments made by all national governments in the UK.

Summary of key content

The current packaging producer responsibility system operates UK-wide. This consultation concerns the whole of the UK and is being undertaken jointly by the UK, the Scottish and the Welsh governments. As the Northern Ireland Assembly is not sitting, the UK government has agreed to consult on behalf of Northern Ireland because of the historic UK-wide approach to packaging producer responsibility.

This consultation seeks views on measures to reduce the amount of unnecessary and difficult to recycle packaging and increase the amount of packaging that can and is recycled through reforms to the packaging producer responsibility regulations.

It also proposes that the full net costs of managing packaging waste are placed on those businesses who use packaging and who are best placed to influence its design, consistent with the polluter pays principle and the concept of extended producer responsibility.

Click here to read the full policy consultation document.

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