Defer DRS until we better understand the fundamental impact of EPR

According to Joseph Doherty, Managing Director of Re-Gen Waste Ltd, the UK Government would be well-judged to take time to understand the long-term impacts of an extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme, before implementing a deposit return scheme (DRS).

Mr Doherty says that: “EPR should be the first scheme they evaluate. It should be given a number of years to be applied and assessed and a DRS should only be introduced if an EPR system is not able to achieve the set requirements.

He said: “Implementing a DRS alongside an EPR in 2023 is too much at the same time and an EPR scheme will provide valuable evidence, which should help to inform if a DRS model is even needed.”

The EPR ‘polluter pays’ principle means that producers who place packaging on the market, will have to take more responsibility for the costs any waste that packaging generates. Currently, producers pay around 10% of these costs but by 2023 they will be responsible for 100%, to incentivise recyclability in its design. This will take the cost away from Councils.

Government’s powers will also be modernised to set producer responsibility obligations. A simplified approach to recycling will be implemented across local authorities, making it easier for the public to recycle. A consistent set of materials will be collected from all households and businesses, with clearer labelling on packaging so everyone knows what can be recycled.

Mr Doherty believes that changing producer behaviour, would cost less and would have more impact, consequently removing the need to duplicate activities within a DRS.

The UK, Deposit Return Scheme is an attempt to increase the rate of recycling of single use drinks containers. Uncertainty remains around who is going to pay for the DRS scheme and how much it will ultimately cost consumers and ratepayers.

In April this year, analysis from the Institute of Economic Affairs predicted that the DRS scheme will cost around £1 billion to set up and £814 million annually – a massive cost with negligible value for money.

Mr Doherty said: “A DRS scheme should not compete with existing recycling services, that are already delivering significant increases in recycling. It would have to fit seamlessly into the existing infrastructure and add value to the activities already taking place.

“From my understanding, higher performing authorities would have little to gain and the most to lose from a DRS. They gain little under a DRS as fewer drink containers will be diverted from residual waste collection and treatment/disposal, and (in the case of household recycling) they lose most revenue from containers being diverted from recycling. The scheme is at risk of removing 20% of recyclates from the current collection system and a large amount of value.

“And if a DRS removes valuable material from local authority mixed recycling, this would be likely to increase MRF gate fees, to sort lower grade materials.”

Mr Doherty’s said: “I would question whether there is a need for an ‘all in’ DRS scheme, given existing council collection services. It’s capturing consumption ‘on-the-go’ that has to be addressed, not diverting materials from an already successful household recycling system.

“The DRS needs to be at the exact point that someone stops consuming a product and wants to dispose of the packaging. Funding of local authorities to increase the capture of recycling ‘on-the-go’ through the provision of additional recycling bins and other measures should be explored.

“It is also questionable whether the amount of litter would reduce significantly anyway, since cigarette butts, chewing gum and fast food packaging are all key types of litter not tackled under the DRS.

In order to create sustained behavioural change, Mr Doherty contends that: “Far more consideration should be given to investment in education and awareness raising campaigns about the environmental impacts of single use plastics and other products.