Plastic is everywhere. It’s how we keep our food fresher for longer. It’s used in the toys we give to our children at Christmas. It’s also how hospitals store life-saving medicines for the treatment of patients.
It’s practical, indestructible and necessary. In fact, it’s so deeply embedded in our daily lives that you’d be forgiven for barely even noticing its existence. Yet while its use is unavoidable – a necessary evil, if you will – governments, businesses and society are cooperating on ways to curb the waste and pollution it causes.
This can’t come soon enough. In the UK, it is estimated that some five million tons of plastic is used every single year. That’s a lot of non-decomposable plastic destined to break down in landfill over the course of centuries without any intervention. The impact of that plastic on the environment is disastrous – in the words of the UN: “Plastic pollution can alter habitats and natural processes, reducing ecosystems’ ability to adapt to climate change, directly affecting millions of people’s livelihoods, food production capabilities and social well-being.”
The good news is that governments around Europe are rolling out regulations designed to help organizations get a grip on their plastic waste. In response to this, the UK is introducing the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme.
This is an important step to embed circular processes into the lifecycle of plastics. Understandably, lots of British businesses (like retailers, manufacturers and food producers) are now wondering what this means for them, what they will have to report on and the repercussions for not doing so.
Breaking down the EPR
Those organizations impacted by the EPR scheme for packaging will, simply put, need to report on this data. This new set of regulations will apply to all UK organizations that import or supply packaging.
However, there are some qualifiers. If all of the following apply, then companies need to collect and report their data:
- you’re an individual business, subsidiary or group (but not a charity)
- you have an annual turnover of £1m or more (based on your most recent annual accounts)
- you were responsible for more than 25 tons of packaging in 2022
- you carry out any of the packaging activities
The breadth of those impacted here is broad. From supermarket chains to car manufacturers, there are a lot of organizations that will need to provide insights into this data.
When does the EPR come in?
Well, this is the five million-ton question. While the government originally targeted 2024 as the date for the scheme to take effect, it’s been deferred to October 2025. This has faced a mixed reaction from UK industry bodies, thinktanks and companies – with some criticizing the government for dragging their feet on environmental regulation, and others saying they appreciate having more time to implement the required changes.
There’s still an impetus for organizations to get their houses in order sooner rather than later though. As the government’s website says: “EPR for packaging fees have been deferred for a year. You will not have to pay any EPR for packaging fees in 2024. However, you must still follow this guidance and report your packaging data for 2023.”
Plastic regulations are piling up
This isn’t the first piece of legislation introduced by the UK to try and enforce best practice around the management of plastics.
Last April, the government brought in the first plastic packaging tax (UK PPT) to be implemented globally. This legislation is designed to tax £200 per metric ton of plastic packaging either produced in or imported into the UK that does not contain at least 30 percent recycled plastic.
Just like their counterparts in mainland Europe, UK companies face two key challenges: getting the data to prepare their tax return and processing it to make tax decisions. With the EPR implementation just around the corner, this lack of visibility of a company’s plastic commitments could result in serious fines for impacted organizations.
How technology is key to helping businesses get their houses in order
Technology is a crucial weapon in the arsenal for helping companies mitigate their concerns around new environmental legislation.
It can assist companies struggling to comply with these new regulations in several ways – from giving them the ability to embed circularity principles into the design of products from the outset. Or even gaining greater visibility over where data on logistics and materials resides, including information on the composition of packaging – which needs to be reported under the EPR scheme.
The ultimate goal of this technology is to help organizations by improving how they track increasingly essential environmental data and gain better oversight of material flows across all business processes. Improved ‘traceability’ helps increase the accuracy of plastic tax payments, mitigates compliance risks and boosts circularity.
While the immediate repercussions of the EPR have been delayed until October 2025, the introduction of this scheme should act as a prompt for organizations to start improving how they tackle plastic pollution. While the importance of legislation like this can’t be overstated, companies are understandably worried about what this means for them. But, with the help of powerful technologies, organizations can comply with the legislation, improve efficiencies and boost circular processes, which ultimately benefit the planet.