British government demands producer responsibility and deposits on everything

Michael Gove
© Michael Gove/ Tristan Fewings - WPA Pool/Getty Images

It is a really radical direction for a conservative government.

Producer responsibility! has long been a cri de cœur on TreeHugger, along with Deposits on everything! Now, in the UK, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has released plans that make businesses and manufacturers responsible for paying the full cost of recycling or disposing for their packaging. Gove tells the press:

Our strategy sets out how we will go further and faster, to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Together we can move away from being a ‘throw-away’ society, to one that looks at waste as a valuable resource. We will cut our reliance on single-use plastics, end confusion over household recycling, tackle the problem of packaging by making polluters pay, and end the economic, environmental and moral scandal that is food waste.

Circular economyDepartment for Environment, food and rural affairs/via

There are some pretty strong measures proposed that read like a TreeHugger dream come true, including:

  • introduce a deposit return scheme, subject to consultation, to increase the recycling of single-use drinks containers including bottles, cans, and disposable cups filled at the point of sale
  • explore mandatory guarantees and extended warranties on products, to encourage manufacturers to design products that last longer and drive up the levels of repair and re-use.
  • review our producer responsibility schemes for items that can be harder or costly to recycle including cars, electrical goods, batteries and explore extending it to textiles, fishing gear, vehicle tyres, certain materials from construction and demolition, and bulky waste such as mattresses, furniture and carpets.
  • introduce a consistent set of recyclable materials collected from all households and businesses, and consistent labelling on packaging so consumers know what they can recycle, to drive-up recycling rates
  • ensure producers pay the full net costs of disposal or recycling of packaging they place on the market by extending producer responsibility – up from just 10% now

This is an extraordinary shift, recognizing that taxpayers are now paying 90 percent of the cost of disposal and recycling. It actually busts the system of single-use products, which as we have noted many times, only works because the public picks up the stuff and bears the cost of dealing with it.

Of course, the industry is going nuts, calling it a "rubbish deal", and also say the timing is terrible. The Food and Drink Federation says, "Many of the measures being suggested by Defra today will place considerable financial burdens on food and drink manufacturers."

To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?

That's the whole point, to change the model, to make it more expensive to give away a cup. Extended Producer Responsibility changes the way companies and businesses work; computer and car manufacturers design for disassembly, bottlers learn to refill and reuse, and coffee shops charge for the cup separately from the coffee. As the government notes,

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a powerful environmental policy approach through which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-use stage. This incentivises producers to design their products to make it easier for them to be re-used, dismantled and/or recycled at end of life. Alongside stakeholders, we consider EPR to be a crucial tool in moving waste up the hierarchy, and stimulating secondary markets. It has been adopted in many countries around the world, across a broad range of products, to deliver higher collection, recycling and recovery rates. The most successful schemes use a range of measures to encourage more sustainable design decisions at the production stage.

It is hard to believe that this is coming from a Conservative government; it is pretty radical. But then, nobody knows if this conservative government will survive, and most of these measures are not coming into force for a few years. Some environmental activists complain in the Guardian that, "With scientists warning we have just 12 years to tackle climate change, this strategy is too little, too slowly.”

Perhaps. But just having words like "we will cement our place as a world leader in resource efficiency, leaving our environment in a better state than we inherited it" come out of the mouth of the likes of Michael Gove means that the world is changing.

British government demands producer responsibility and deposits on everything
It is a really radical direction for a conservative government.

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