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Getting yourself EPR ready

Polytag supports the introduction of legislation to promote EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility). How packaging is handled, sorted and reprocessed to enable the circular economy is an important consideration for ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance), NetZero targets, SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and various connected legislation – such as deposit return schemes and waste tracking.

This page provides you with an overview of EPR regulation in the UK and explores the way it will be implemented and the impact on businesses. Polytag technology has been developed to enable businesses to manage extended producer liability by giving them access to ‘never before seen’ data on packaging as it transitions through the circular economy.

Your guide to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy approach which sees the ‘polluter pays’ principle being applied to producers of material goods. In the UK, EPR will be enabled through reformed legislation to the existing UK Packaging Waste Regulations.

Under EPR management, producers must bear responsibility for the end-to-end lifecycle of the products that they place on the market. As well as helping to ensure that producers pay the correct costs for the disposal of their products when they become waste, EPR policies can act as a nudge mechanism, encouraging producers to consider the design of products so that their use is maximised, either through reuse, repair, or durability.

For 25 years the UK’s waste sector has relied on a framework of producer obligations known as the ‘PRN model’ which formed a key part of the Government’s Packaging Waste Regulations. While the Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) system has enabled the UK to deliver on its EU recycling targets, and kept compliance costs for businesses relatively low, it has offered little incentive for producers to design products with greater re-use or recyclability in mind. Not only this, producers were only paying a small proportion of the costs associated with managing packaging at the end of its life and the financial burden of waste disposal was being borne by Local Authorities and society as a whole, instead.

Recognising the limitations of the PRN system, in 2018 the Government published its Resource and Waste Strategy in which it set out plans for a complete reform of the UK’s waste system, and its vision for the UK to transition from a linear to a circular waste economy.

As outlined in the Resource & Waste Strategy, this reformed system would require the transition to a producer obligation framework called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) which requires the producer to pay the full net cost of treating packaging that they place on the market. Supporting the EPR scheme would be other policies, including a Plastic Packaging Tax, and Deposit Return Schemes (DRS).

Several consultations followed and the UK Government published its first response to the EPR consultations on 29th March 2022. While many feel that the response has been too watered down, the UK is on a journey to modernise its packaging waste system, and transition to a circular economy.

Packaging-specific EPR seeks to incentivise producers who place packaging on the market to use materials which can be easily recycled back into high quality products when they reach their end of life.

As with other forms of EPR, packaging EPR requires producers to consider the design of their packaging, the labelling and the financial costs of sorting and collection (no matter how recyclable packaging material is, suitable technologies and collection systems need to be in place to effectively collect and reprocess it).

Under the proposals set out in DEFRA’s consultation response, the UK’s existing PRN system will remain in place until 2026/27 and will continue to provide evidence of recycling for packaging in both domestic and commercial premises.

However, producers need to be prepared for a more detailed reporting system to kick in from the beginning of 2023. This will include data on specific packaging component materials, the waste stream their packaging is likely to appear in and the use of any ‘recycling disruptors’ which can interfere with the recycling process.

In 2024, producers will be required to start reporting on whether their packaging is likely to end up in households and, according to figures, they will be expected to make additional payments to their PRN scheme administrator, to cover the costs of local authority collections.

In 2025, modulated fees will kick in – thus enabling the Government, through a system tiered fees – to further encourage producers to design packaging with end-of-life recyclability / reuse in mind. These will come following the introduction of producer packaging recyclability assessments which Defra has indicated will be introduced from October 2024.

Under the Government’s new EPR scheme, it is expected there will be six categories of producer who will be subject to EPR obligations. These are: brand owners, importers, distributors, online marketplaces sellers and service providers. Individual businesses can have more than one type of obligation applied to them.

Size and turnover of company will also apply. While the current small producer threshold (de-minimis) for EPR obligations will remain in line with current threshold of £2 million turnover and 50 tonnes of packaging handled a year, there will be a new reporting threshold for businesses that have a turnover of more than £1 million and handle more than 25 tonnes of packaging a year. Businesses operating between these two thresholds will have reporting requirements but no payment obligations.

Packaging EPR is one of the most common forms of EPR around the world. The majority of EU member states have schemes, but there are also schemes in other countries such as Japan, Canada, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. At a European level EPR is also in place for Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and batteries, and some countries have schemes covering other items, such as tyres, textiles and furniture.

Across Europe, EPR schemes that facilitate the collection of packaging waste from households rely on Deposit Return Schemes (DRS), which are also set to be implemented by each of the four devolved nations across the UK.

Deposit Return Schemes have been around since the 1970s, but in recent years digital DRS technologies have emerged, which seek to further increase collection rates of post-consumer packaging waste at a lower cost to the producer or local authority, and less hassle to the consumer.

Polytag is one such example.

Polytag technology can enable businesses to meet EPR legislation

Polytag uses a scalable and rugged approach to help businesses, local councils and governments understand and log packaging composition, and trace it throughout the circular economy, thereby ensuring consistency, clarity, and accessibility. Its adaptability means it can be used in a wide range of ways but in the context of EPR it is particularly relevant as it enables businesses to understand how their packaging is managed post-consumption.

While the introduction of EPR is a vital step in the transition to a circular economy, it will, without a doubt result in a significant increase in costs and associated challenges for producers. Alongside this will be increased reporting for obligated businesses and a need for a far greater depth of data.

Polytag’s packaging attribute database is built to align with the GS1 Global Data Model and makes the complicated process of EPR regulations for businesses more streamlined. Its scalability makes it useful and relevant for companies of all sizes to contribute to and benefit from.

Data from each Polytag applied to packaging is held in the Polytag cloud and is openly accessible through GS1 standards. This means that individual businesses will be able to trace and account for their product packaging – a key requirement of the forthcoming EPR regulations and essential for the implementation of modular fees in 2025. Through the Polytag technology, Governments and consumers will also see how brands are contributing to the circular packaging economy as they will be able to monitor their packaging through its entire reprocessing lifecycle like never before.

The Polytag-enabled technology, combined with our innovative UV ink applied to products and packaging has been used in Materials Recovery Facilities (MRF) and Plastic Recovery Facilities (PRF) to improve systems and heighten traceability.

The Polytag solution makes the process simple for businesses and governments to enforce the EPR legislation. For more information on how Polytag can help your business or organisation embrace the forthcoming changes, please get in touch with one of our team.

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