‘Utterly cynical move’: EPR delay will ‘drive down inflation’, says DEFRA

DEFRA has said its decision to delay the rollout of extended producer responsibility (EPR) will help to “drive down inflation”, however campaigners have described this as being an “utterly cynical move” saying “this isn’t about helping people struggling with the cost of living but simply letting big polluters off the hook”.

Yesterday, the government published an update to its EPR guidance page, stating that: “EPR for packaging fees have been deferred for a year. You will not have to pay any fees in 2024. However, you must still follow this guidance and report your packaging data for 2023. You must also continue to pay any fees due under previous regulations."

This prompted widespread concern from the waste industry, with Lee Marshall, policy and external affairs director at the Chartered Institute of Waste Management (CIWM) telling ENDS that the delay will have a “significant impact, resulting in the public continuing to bear the cost of packaging recycling and disposal, less investment in recycling infrastructure due to a loss of confidence in the legislative framework, and a significant slowing of the UK’s green economy”.

However, in a press release published today, DEFRA said that the decision will “help drive down inflation”. 

The release stated that the decision, which has been taken jointly with the devolved administrations, has been made following “extensive engagement with industry”. 

By deferring the date of which producers have to pay for the cost of recycling their packaging it will “make sure [the scheme] is best designed to deliver on long term recycling goals while supporting households with the immediate challenge of high prices caused by inflation”, DEFRA said. 

Environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “We’re determined to transform the way we collect, recycle and reuse our waste materials so we eliminate all avoidable waste by 2050 in a way that works for households and consumers. That’s better for our environment.

“We are also listening to industry and ensuring our work to tackle inflation and to drive up recycling go hand in hand, to make sure our reforms will be a success.”

However, Nina Schrank, plastics campaign lead at Greenpeace UK, described this as being an “utterly cynical move” and “another sign of the government’s dismal environmental record”.

“This isn’t about helping people struggling with the cost of living but simply letting big polluters off the hook. The simple fact is that big companies who are pumping out single-use plastic need to produce far, far less of it in the first place. The whole point of this scheme was to make sure it’s big plastic polluters, not the public, who pay to clean up this huge mess of their own making. 

“There’s overwhelming public support for cutting plastic waste yet the government is willing to break a key manifesto promise to please plastic producers. It’s increasingly clear the real winners from any rolling back of green policy are big plastic and carbon polluters with the public left squarely as the losers.”

Late last month, the public spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) slammed DEFRA’s approach to waste and resources, concluding that four and half years on from the 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy, DEFRA has “still not developed effective long-term delivery plans that set out how it will achieve its ambitions for resources and waste”. 

The report stated that some businesses said that lack of clarity around EPR has “discouraged them from investing in changes to products and processes in advance of the scheme coming into force”.