Thomas Lindquist, the man credited with having invented and formulating the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility, is not convinced by the UK government’s explanation of why it has deferred EPR fees for packaging converters, producers, and suppliers by a year - although the wider system, including the collection and reporting of packaging data for 2023, has remained a live requirement that is due on October 1.
Lindquist is currently a senior lecturer at the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University in Sweden. He introduced the concept of EPR in the 1990s.
In an interview with Ecoveritas, he said the UK government should ‘look beyond the money flow and embrace its responsibilities’.
The government blamed economic pressures for the delay but said it would use the time to finalise plans for the scheme's implementation with local government, businesses, and waste management companies.
According to Lindquist, the UK is ‘missing a driving force’.
"The UK must understand that you need someone steering this," Lindquist told Ecoveritas.com. "Someone who has formalism, power, or somebody who says the industry wants this, local authorities want that, but we have some goals, which is a reasonable way of achieving those.”
That approach will also enable the government to calculate the costs - objectively.
”That's what I think you need. And if the government doesn't want to take responsibility, you will have a problem,” Lindquist said.
Defra's statement read: "Following extensive engagement with industry, and in light of the pressure facing consumers and businesses in the current economic context, new rules to ensure packaging producers pay for the cost of recycling their packaging will be deferred a year from October 2024 to 2025."
In Lindquist’s view, the announcement was a missed opportunity for the UK to show strong leadership and commitment.
Producers had lobbied hard for a delay recently, even meeting with the Prime Minister to raise concerns over EPR in light of the recent cost-of-living situation. The latest delay will push the main part of EPR – the fees – to after the 2024 election, potentially adding further delays.
But Lindquist believes the industry was ready to press ahead and suggests that Defra should do a better job of 'finding friends and understanding potential enemies'.
"I think most bigger companies don't worry at all," he added. "But they are not the ones going out in public. You normally choose the less progressive action if you are in an industry organisation and representing businesses.
He added that he has tried over the years to avoid talking with associations, instead, finding ‘representatives from companies because they are much more constructive’.
Lindquist believes that if the UK is to stay competitive and manage crises, there needs to be a different kind of thinking.
"I've noticed in Sweden and some other countries that it's mainly professional economists talking about this. They have this training of looking at efficiency. But maybe they are forgetting what efficiency means and are just looking at the money flow.
"But if you start to look at the wider picture, I think this is still very cheap for people, and in European countries, we are not spending a lot of money on this.
Ecoveritas CEO Irvin Newbitt agreed, noting that the policy has never had its 'fair share of focus'.
“Instead, civil servants have spent months desperately trying to Sellotape and glue it back together before ultimately realising that this hotch-potch iteration wouldn't work and ‘mission make-do-and-mend' had run out of road.
Of primary concern was the risk the recycling levy poses to already soaring inflation. But this has always been a very predictable smoke screen. And when you contrast the industry's position with the urgency of the climate crisis, whatever way you look at it, these are damaging actions," he commented.