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Packaging EPR FAQs

Extended Producer Responsibility is a way of ensuring that producers are financially or operationally responsible for the environmental impacts of their products. Find out more about Extended Producer Responsibility here.

What is Packaging Extended Producer Responsibility?

Packaging Extended Producer Responsibility (Packaging EPR) is an initiative used to ensure that producers are financially responsible for the environmental costs of the packaging that they place on the market. In the UK, this responsibility is currently fulfilled through the purchase of Packaging Waste Recovery Notes (PRNs), which are sold by organisations that reprocess packaging. Obligated producers must buy sufficient PRNs in order to offset their obligations, using the ‘producer pays’ principle. PRNs act as evidence that an equivalent amount of similar packaging has been recycled. Currently PRNs pay for only a small proportion of the costs associated with packaging at the end of its life.

The revised packaging scheme will require producers to pay the full net cost of treating packaging that they place on the market, and has the potential to incentivise other changes such as better packaging design and preventing waste at source. Changes to who is responsible for compliance, labelling requirements, scheme governance, export requirements, and reporting and data requirements are also being considered.

FAQs

Here are answers to frequently asked questions about Extended Producer Responsibility.

When will the new scheme start?

The Resources and Waste Strategy states the new scheme will be implemented in 2023, following a two-year implementation phase to give organisations time to prepare.

A first stage consultation took place in spring 2019, and a summary of the responses is available. A second stage consultation is due to take place in due course.

What is Zero Waste Scotland’s role?

Zero Waste Scotland is acting as a technical advisor to the Scottish Government on parts of the scheme design. These include:

  • what is included within the costs that producers must pay for (known as full net cost recovery)
  • how the scheme should be governed, including what sort of organisation should do this and what information producers must provide
  • how local authorities should be paid for the collection and sorting of material
  • how packaging should be labelled to ensure that consumers can tell whether it is recyclable
  • what targets should be set for recycling rates
  • carrying out research where there are gaps in the information needed to design the scheme

Is packaging EPR a Scottish scheme?

No, the packaging EPR scheme was introduced in 1996, prior to devolution.

The UK packaging EPR scheme is currently under review. This review is being led by DEFRA, but is a joint initiative between the administrations for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

What are other parts of the UK doing?

The review of the packaging EPR scheme is being led by DEFRA, but is a joint initiative involving the devolved administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The governments of all the nations are working together to ensure that the revised packaging EPR scheme aligns with existing policies as far as possible, and allows some variation based on local needs and priorities. For example, Scotland and Wales already have strategies to move towards consistent kerbside recycling services, in the form of the Household Recycling Charter in Scotland and the Collections Blueprint in Wales. Defra carried out a consultation on collection consistency for England in Spring 2019.

 

Which other countries operate a packaging EPR?

Packaging EPR is one of the most common forms of EPR around the world. The majority of EU member states have schemes, in order to comply with EU Directive 94/62/EC, but there are also schemes in other countries and regions around the world. Packaging EPR globally takes a wide variety of forms, but typically producers are responsible for collecting, sorting and either recycling or disposing of the waste from households and commercial and industrial sources. Producers can fulfil these obligations directly, or by paying a third party to facilitate the obligations on their behalf.

Revisions to the Waste Framework Directive (2008), introduced new requirements for EPR schemes, requiring producers to cover the entire cost of waste management for the products they place on the market. This includes costs relating to collection, sorting and treatment of the waste, as well as funding information campaigns and data gathering and reporting.

Why is the current system being reviewed?

The current packaging EPR scheme uses Packaging Waste Recovery Notes (PRNs) whereby producers buy sufficient PRNs in order to offset their obligations using the ‘producer pays’ principle. It is estimated that this amounts to around 10%, on average, of the total costs of managing packaging waste at end-of-life.

Producers do not currently pay the full costs associated with the material that they place on the market. This means that Local Authorities and society as a whole must bear the majority of the financial cost of dealing with packaging materials at the end of their useful life. In addition, although the money raised by PRNs is intended to improve packaging waste management it is often unclear whether this is the case.

As the price of PRNs is not linked to the recyclability or environmental impacts of the materials, the current system does not incentivise improvements in packaging design or penalise the use of materials that are difficult to recycle. This means that materials are often reprocessed into much lower value goods or lost to landfill or incineration after just one use.

There is also a lack of transparency about the actual fate of materials, especially when they are exported for reprocessing in other countries. This means it is difficult to tell if materials are being handled responsibly.

In addition, it has become apparent in recent years that our excessive use of packaging is causing global issues, from marine plastic pollution, to environmental harm from extractive industries to climate change through energy and oil use in production processes.

A redesigned packaging EPR scheme could help to reduce these issues, as well as driving a shift towards a more circular economy, ensuring that materials are used for longer, and reprocessed to higher value uses.

What are the aims of packaging EPR?

The aims of revising the packaging EPR scheme were set out in the DEFRA consultation as:

  • maximising value from our resources
  • minimising waste through the circular use of resources
  • placing responsibility on businesses for the environmental impact of their products and for the full net costs of managing products at end of life
  • substantially reducing unnecessary and difficult to recycle packaging
  • ensuring that more packaging is designed to be recyclable
  • ensuring that more packaging waste is recycled
  • ensuring that more packaging is made from recycled material
  • ensuring that fewer packaging items are littered
  • ensuring that it is 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.

As set out in ‘Making This Last – a circular economy strategy for Scotland’, Scotland is focussed on increasing the circular economy potential of materials to ensure that materials are kept in use for as long as possible, before being recycled into equivalent value products. This means a revised EPR scheme will need to incentivise better material choices and product design, as well as ensuring that the collection and reprocessing of material is adequately funded.

In addition, it is vital that the scheme is designed to evolve, driving continual improvement in the packaging industry and allowing decision making by the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as at a UK level.

 

How will the scheme tackle the climate emergency?

Everything that we buy has associated greenhouse gas emissions, as a result of the materials and energy used during manufacture, production, transport and use and disposal of the item. In Scotland, the goods and services that we consume are responsible for 74% of our carbon footprint, and globally, consumption of goods is responsible for around 45% of emissions.

The issues associated with plastic packaging in the marine environment are well-documented, with an estimated 8 million tons of plastic pollution entering the world’s oceans every year. The majority of packaging is single-use, so is disposed of after just one use. This means that there is a continual need for new packaging, the production of which drives climate change.

A revised EPR scheme for packaging which increases recycling rates will play a role in reducing material use and driving a circular economy.

How will the scheme encourage re-use?

EPR schemes can incentivise changes to product design and business models by charging less for environmentally desirable outcomes. This would encourage businesses to come up with innovative approaches to packaging their products. Reuse is one example that could be included within a revised packaging EPR scheme and that could contribute to wider considerations of material use.

How could the scheme improve recycling?

The current packaging EPR scheme has contributed towards the UK meeting EU recycling targets, but more will be needed to meet Scottish Government targets. There are a wide variety of packaging types and materials, and collection systems for these vary from place to place. There is also a lack of clarity for consumers on how to dispose of some packaging types.

The new scheme will allow further improvements to the recycling of packaging. The design of packaging can be influenced by fee modulation, which could incentivise producers to use materials that are easier to recycle [hyperlink to full explanation], and producers will be responsible for paying the full cost of effective collections of well-sorted material for recycling. Improved monitoring across the supply chain will allow any losses of material to be identified.

In addition, the scheme has the potential to improve on-pack labels [hyperlink to section on labelling], and fund information campaigns to ensure that citizens know how to recycle materials.

The scheme will also allow better controls over the export of materials, ensuring that it is clear where material is going and what it will be used for.

How could the scheme tackle litter?

In 2014 the cost to Scottish local authorities of keeping streets clean was £53 million. Under the revised EPR scheme producers will be responsible for paying the full cost to local authorities of dealing with their packaging, transferring the cost of preventing and cleaning up litter from the public to the private purse, saving local authorities significant resources. This will include the cost of street cleansing and litter-picking. The packaging EPR consultation proposed that the producer fee is used to establish a strategic fund for each nation that will support national and local-littering communications campaigns and community-based initiatives to reduce the littering of packaging where this would provide value for money.

Under the proposed definition of full net costs, producers would be responsible for the following in relation to litter:

  • Providing information to consumers on recycling packaging and anti-littering
  • Clean up of littered and fly-tipped packaging items
  • The collection, collation and reporting of relevant packaging and waste management data (including litter and flytipping).

In 2014 Scottish Government published “Towards a litter-free Scotland” that set out how Scotland can reduce litter and flytipping, and support cleaner, safer communities. The strategy is currently under review, with the wider policy landscape being considered, including the links between items that are littered and the packaging EPR scheme. The current strategy is built on three core factors of ‘Information, Infrastructure and Enforcement’ which ensure that everyone can take responsibility for their waste packaging.

 

What packaging will be included in the scheme?

All packaging that is used by households will be included, regardless of the material. Packaging used by business will also be included where this is similar in nature to household packaging; for example, food packaging collected from office premises. There are discussions ongoing about whether the scheme should be expanded to include packaging used in commercial and industrial uses.

EU Directive 94/62/EC defines packaging as including all sales packaging, grouped packaging (such as cardboard trays for tinned goods) and transport packaging, regardless of the material used or the setting that the packaging is used in. The current packaging EPR scheme in the UK covers all packaging.

What plastics will be included?

All plastic packaging materials will be included in the scheme, where these are used by households or in similar settings. There are discussions ongoing about whether the scheme should be expanded to commercial and industrial uses.

Are single use cups included?

Single use cups are included in the scope of packaging EPR. Currently, there are a range of voluntary schemes in place to provide recycling services, but many cups can only be recycled if they are taken to specialist facilities. This generally does not happen if cups are mixed in with other materials at the point of collection, so cups are often sent to landfill or incinerated. Inclusion within the packaging EPR scheme will mean that producers have to pay the full cost of this.

In Scotland, the Expert Panel on Environmental Charging and Other Measures (EPECOM) has recommended to the Scottish Government that a separate charge is placed on takeaway hot beverage cups to encourage consumer behaviour change by highlighting that you are purchasing the cup and the contents separately. If such a charge was introduced, this would need to be accounted for in the packaging EPR scheme. EPECOM has also highlighted that there are many other single use items that could be acted upon.

Why are compostable materials included in the revised EPR scheme?

The revised EPR scheme will cover all packaging materials, including compostable ones. While compostable products are often believed to be a simple solution to some of the issues posed by packaging, the reality isn’t so simple. Compostable packaging still requires producers to consider how it will be collected and processed once it is disposed of by consumers.

Although products labelled as ‘compostable’ can be broken down by microorganisms into naturally occurring gases and organic matter, this needs to happen in the consistent conditions of an industrial composting facility which are also used to process food and garden waste.

In Scotland, food waste is generally sent to anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities which cannot usually breakdown compostable products. Public confusion over how to dispose of different packaging means that AD, and industrial composting sites, both tend to remove all packaging materials before processing food waste as much of it will include conventional plastics. This means that, even if compostable packaging does end up at an industrial composting site, it ends up being removed and incinerated or landfilled. It is therefore important that these challenges are considered, both during the development of the revised EPR scheme and by producers while designing packaging.

How will the scheme be administered?

A number of options for scheme administration were put forward in the packaging EPR consultation in February 2019, ranging from an extension of the current competitive Producer Responsibility Organisation arrangement to one more similar to European schemes whereby a single Scheme Administrator manages all required elements.

The four administrations are continuing to develop their preferred governance model for consultation in due course.

What is the definition of a producer?

The current scheme defines a producer as a company or group of companies that handled over 50 tonnes of packaging materials or packaging in the previous calendar year and had a turnover of over £2 million in the last financial year. Consideration is being given to the merits of the current method of obligation, which is split proportionally across the supply chain, or whether the scheme should move to a single point of compliance, where greatest impact could be made on packaging design.

In both scenarios, there is the potential to set a de-minimis threshold. Establishing a de-minimis would require careful consideration of the requirements being placed on producers versus ensuring that all packaging placed on the market is accounted for and businesses contribute towards the cost of managing their packaging.

Which option used will affect who is responsible for paying the fee.

How will the scheme be funded?

The scheme will be funded by the fees that producers pay for placing packaging on the market. These fees will be set at a level that ensures that producers pay the full net cost of the collection, sorting and reprocessing or disposal of the material that they place on the market, as well as the costs associated with running the scheme. This will include administration, monitoring and reporting, as well as communication to improve household recycling and reduce littering.

How will the scheme be enforced?

The enforcement mechanism for the revised scheme has not been decided at present. It is anticipated that SEPA will have a central role in enforcing the scheme. Zero Waste Scotland, Scottish Government and SEPA are working in partnership to ensure that the enforcement mechanism meets Scottish requirements.

How will imported products be treated?

All packaging that is placed on the market in the UK will be subject to the requirements of the packaging EPR scheme. This will include packaging on imported products. There is an ongoing discussion about the definition of a producer to ensure that the fee is applied at the right point in the supply chain.

How will online sellers be treated?

Online sellers and marketplaces will also be subject to the requirements of the packaging EPR scheme to ensure that the material they place on the market, or which is placed on the market through their platform, is included.

Where will the materials be recycled?

At present, much of the UK’s recycling is sent abroad for reprocessing.

The revised scheme should drive increases in the amount and quality of material that is available for recycling, which should make UK investment in reprocessing facilities more attractive. In addition, the UK government will be holding a consultation in 2020 on the design and implementation of a tax that applies to plastic packaging produced in, or imported into, the UK that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic. This should help to create a stronger market for recycled materials within the UK. It is hoped that these factors will encourage increased reprocessing capacity in the UK.

What is full net cost recovery?

Full net cost recovery means that producers must pay the whole cost of managing the packaging materials that they place on the market at end of life. This covers the collection, sorting and treatment of packaging at the end of its life, but also communications to improve recycling and/or reduce littering by householders and businesses.

How much will producers pay?

Producers will be responsible for the full net cost of dealing with their packaging. For some elements work is ongoing to establish what these costs will be. The following types of cost will be included:

  • Collecting and sorting packaging waste from household and household-like settings
  • The treatment of packaging waste in the residual waste stream from households and possibly the treatment of packaging waste in the residual waste stream from other sources
  • Dealing with littered packaging
  • Communications to help consumers recycle
  • The data and reporting that is needed to govern the scheme
  • Compliance monitoring and enforcement.

What are modulated fees?

Modulated fees are used in some EPR schemes and mean that the fee a producer must pay for a particular type of packaging is dependent on the characteristics of the packaging. Modulation is intended to ensure that it is financially beneficial for producers to design their packaging to minimise environmental impacts.

Fees in a revised packaging EPR scheme could be modulated to take account of how easy it is to recycle different types of packaging or the carbon intensity of a material. Where there are environmentally better alternatives to some packaging types, the fees for these materials could be set at a lower level to incentivise producers to switch to the materials with the lowest impacts.

Fees could only be modulated within the full net cost that producers are liable for. This means that were modulation to be used any increased fees for undesirable packaging would be balanced by the lower fees that would be charged for packaging that is less environmentally harmful.

How much will Local Authorities and other collectors receive?

Local Authorities will receive funding towards their collection and sorting costs, communicating with householders and the data and reporting that is necessary for the scheme.

Packaging EPR schemes typically require service and performance standards from waste management service providers to ensure an efficient and effective service. The details of how the funding will be allocated are still being decided, but standards required could include:

  • Alignment with national service initiatives such as the Household Recycling Charter in Scotland or the Collections Blueprint in Wales
  • Frequency of collections
  • Quality of materials collected, contamination rate or recycling rate.

Discussions are ongoing between Defra and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure that the funding mechanism reflects the circumstances of all Local Authorities.

How will the future packaging EPR scheme affect household waste collections?

The fees that producers pay will fund household waste services for packaging. Local Authorities will continue to be responsible for providing kerbside collections. Over time, there may be changes to services in some areas to increase consistency and performance across the country.

The scheme should lead to changes to the design of packaging and labelling which should make it easier to dispose of items correctly. This will increase the quality of the material that is collected, meaning that materials can be used for higher value applications, such as being recycled back into packaging. It will also reduce the amount of material that is lost to landfill or incineration.

The scheme will link to Scotland’s Household Recycling Charter, which sets out to maximise the capture and quality of materials from household waste.

What is the role of individuals in the scheme?

The main role of individual consumers and householders will be to dispose of their waste responsibly and appropriately, ensuring that the materials are correctly sorted. This will help to maximise the amount and quality of material that is available for recycling. Individuals will need to ensure that they are aware of information provided by their Local Authority, and that they check the labels on packaging to ensure they are disposing of it properly.

Zero Waste Scotland encourages everyone to consider the packaging when deciding what to purchase. Avoiding goods with excessive or non-recyclable materials will send a message to producers that change is needed.

What is the role of producers in the scheme?

Producers will have a financial responsibility for the full net costs of dealing with packaging that they place on the market. This will require them to monitor and report what they produce and what they pay, to demonstrate compliance with the scheme.

The governance model for the scheme has not yet been decided, but producers may also need to be involved in this. Depending on the model, producers may need to establish a scheme administrator or join a compliance scheme.

The fee structure will be designed to incentivise producers to make environmentally sound material and design choices. It is likely that non-recyclable or difficult to recycle materials will attract higher fees to reflect the environmental harm caused and the loss of resources.

Producers will also be required to adhere to any labelling requirements that are introduced within the scheme.

What is the role of local authorities in the scheme?

Local Authorities are the main provider of household waste collections across the UK, either directly, or through contracts with private companies.

Local Authorities will receive money from the producer fees towards the costs of their collection services. The proportion of money that Local Authorities receive is likely to be dependent on the efficiency and effectiveness of the service that they provide, although the funding mechanism has not yet been decided. As a result, Local Authorities will need to provide evidence that they are meeting required standards.

Local Authorities also have a role to play in communicating with householders to ensure that they understand how to use their household services, and how to responsibly dispose of the waste when out and about. It is likely that funding will be provided from the producer fees to support this activity.

Why are new labelling requirements being introduced?

There are currently a wide variety of recycling labels in use, which can be confusing for citizens. In addition, on-pack labels often give an indication of whether a material can be recycled in principle, not whether it is recycled in a particular Local Authority area. This presents problems, as materials that can be recycled in some areas will be a form of contamination in other areas.

The first consultation on the reform of packaging EPR suggested that a mandatory UK-wide labelling scheme would help to resolve these issues. Work is ongoing to determine what this would be and the mechanism for its use by producers.

What is the current legislation on packaging?

Packaging is currently governed by a combination of EU and UK law, and the requirements for producers will be clarified ahead of the implementation of a revised UK packaging EPR scheme.

The EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) was introduced with the intention of harmonizing national measures for the management of packaging and packaging waste and reducing or preventing environmental impacts from packaging and packaging waste. Packaging is defined as ‘all products made of any materials of any nature to be used for the containment, protection, handling, delivery and presentation of goods, from raw materials to processed goods, from the producer to the user or the consumer’. Packaging EPR is one mechanism for achieving the goals of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, but under this Directive member states could choose other appropriate measures to achieve the goals.

The EU Directive was transposed into UK law in the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007, which placed a requirement on packaging producers to either register with the regulator or a compliance scheme. Producers have a responsibility to recover and recycle packaging to meet the targets placed on them and demonstrate compliance. This requirement is fulfilled through the purchase of Packaging Waste Recovery Notes or Packaging Waste Export Recovery Notes, and by providing information to consumers about the end of life options for their packaging.

The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2015 set out standards for those packing or filling products into packaging or importing packed or filled packaging into the UK.

These requirements are:

  • Packaging volume and weight must be the minimum amount to maintain the necessary levels of safety, hygiene and acceptance for the packed product and for the consumer
  • Packaging must be manufactured so as to permit reuse or recovery in accordance with specific requirements
  • Noxious or hazardous substances in packaging must be minimised in emissions, ash or leachate from incineration or landfill

How does this fit in with the EU Single Use Plastics Directive?

The EU Single Use Plastics Directive will restrict or ban the use of certain types of plastic products e.g. single-use plastic cutlery and expanded polystyrene cups. In addition, all oxo-degradable plastics will be banned.

The Single Use Plastics Directive also requires that EPR schemes are established for a number of plastic items, including food containers, packets and wrappers for fast-food and food consumed ‘on the go’. Such schemes should cover awareness raising measures, the costs of waste collection (including the infrastructure and its operation and the subsequent transport and treatment of that waste) and the cost of cleaning up litter. These measures would be covered by the revised packaging EPR scheme currently being developed in the UK.

What is the interplay with EPR and DRS?

Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme, where a small deposit will be charged on drinks containers to incentivise their return to a collection site, is a form of EPR. The Deposit and Return Scheme Scotland Regulations were passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2020. The “go live” date for the scheme is July 2022. The scheme will improve recycling rates, increase the quality of recycling materials and significantly reduce litter. Consumers will pay a small deposit of 20p when they buy a drink in any single-use PET plastic, glass or metal drinks can or bottle, and then get the deposit back when they return the empty bottle or can.

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, stated in a letter to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee in April 2020 that the Scottish Government “view deposit return as a form of producer responsibility, therefore, if a producer is discharging their obligations for material through DRS, they should not also be required to pay into any other extended producer responsibility system”.

More information on Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme can be found at depositreturn.scot

How do I get more information on the scheme design?

The consultation document issued in 2019 sets out the possible features that could be included in a scheme design and will be followed by a second consultation.

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