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Extended Producer Responsibility

Zero Waste Scotland is currently supporting the Scottish Government in its work with the UK government to support a review of our extended producer responsibility systems.

What is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)?

The concept of extended producer responsibility (EPR) is about ensuring that producers bear financial responsibility for the impacts of products they place on the market, and are incentivised to reduce these impacts. At the heart of this lies the opportunity to assess the whole lifecycle of a product. EPR has the potential to influence design, driving products to be reusable, repairable and durable, as well as ensuring that products can be recycled back into high quality products when they reach the end of their lives.

This can be through a variety of mechanisms. At its most basic, EPR can be used to ensure that producers pay the costs of dealing with their products when they become waste, but it can also drive changes to products by ensuring that the environmental impact of design choices is reflected in the cost a producer is liable for.

EPR systems are also used to ensure hazardous products, such as batteries and some electrical and electronic equipment are dealt with responsibly.

What can an EPR scheme do? 

EPR schemes place responsibility for the impact of a product on the producer. Currently, they are mainly used to make producers responsible for the disposal of their products at the end of their useful lives, either via collecting the material themselves, or paying for another organisation to do it. The potential uses of EPR are much wider than this, as it is increasingly recognised as a powerful tool to address the wider environmental impacts caused by choice of materials in a product or the way it is assembled, accelerating a circular economy and contributing towards our response to the climate emergency challenge.

EPR can act as a tool to improve product design in order to prolong the lifecycle of materials and enhance recycling and reuse. By compelling the producer to take responsibility for the items they make, an EPR scheme promotes the design of products that can be used time and again or be easily disassembled.

It can also disincentivise unnecessary disposable items that are frequently discarded after one use. This reduces pollution and waste.

How do typical EPR schemes work?

EPR schemes can be mandatory (introduced by a government via legislation) or voluntary and place obligations on companies who make goods available to the market – the producers. Companies can usually choose whether they wish to meet the requirements of a scheme themselves or pay another organisation to do this on their behalf. Some schemes require producers to register with a Producer Responsibility Organisation.

Producers may pay fees as an upfront charge based on the impact of a product, through producers physically taking their products back at the end of their lives, or through market-driven mechanisms such as Packaging Waste Recovery Notes.

Why do we need it? 

At present, 74% of Scotland’s carbon footprint is caused by the goods and services we consume. This includes the extraction, transport and manufacture process. Making better use of materials would substantially lower carbon emissions and protect habitats and biodiversity vulnerable to the extraction process.

EPR is a powerful measure that should be used to encourage a more circular economy, where products are designed to be reused and remanufactured, rather than disposed of. They can also ensure that products are disassembled and recycled into new high quality products. This will help Scotland to meet Sustainable Development Goal 12, which requires countries to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Where are we just now with EPR?

We are already part of four UK EPR systems. These cover packaging, waste electrical and electronic equipment, batteries and end of life vehicles.

A review of the UK packaging scheme is currently underway. Reviews of the waste electrical and electronic equipment, batteries and end of life vehicles will take place by 2023 and will be led by Defra with input from all four UK nations. Zero Waste Scotland is acting as technical lead on behalf of the Scottish Government, working with the UK government and the other devolved administrations to ensure that these schemes are suitably ambitious and meet Scotland’s needs.

‘Making Things Last – a circular economy strategy for Scotland’, published in 2016, set out an ambition to take a more comprehensive approach to EPR, to encourage reuse, repair and remanufacture and address the costs of recycling and disposal.

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. A Deposit Return 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. Producers pay the costs of running the scheme.

Zero Waste Scotland is also working with the National Bed Federation to examine how to deal with the 600,000 mattresses that are disposed of each year in Scotland. Part of this includes looking at an EPR scheme and how it may work.

What is the future of EPR?

The possibilities for EPR are huge and could cover everything from food packaging to building design.

Zero Waste Scotland is supporting the Scottish Government, who are committed to working with the UK Government and the devolved administrations of Wales and Northern Ireland to improve and expand the use of EPR to accelerate a circular economy. Zero Waste Scotland recognises the huge potential of EPR to tackle a range of environmental issues associated with the production, use and disposal of products and materials.

With the impacts of the climate emergency already being felt, this is more important than ever. It is important to note that EPR is one of a range of policy tools and interventions that can address the environmental impacts of the products we use. Policies must be designed carefully to optimise their impact and avoid unintended consequences.

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