Recycling reforms can work if we learn from Scotland’s mistakes

16 June 2023

The collapse of the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) in Scotland is an example of why complex policies cannot be rushed to meet arbitrary deadlines.



Before anyone accuses our sector of hiding from our responsibilities, food and drink manufacturers fully support the aims and objectives of DRS and have made multi-million pound investments to support its launch.  A delay is now an opportunity to get the policy right – which we hope will stop the UK government from making the same mistake with other waste reforms, and scoring an unnecessary own goal.   

The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme, which is due to launch early next year, will cost manufacturers nearly £2 billion annually.  It’s likely to prompt further price increases, just at the time when food and drink companies are working round the clock to keep food prices down for hard-pressed households.  

The proposals for a government-run EPR scheme won’t work – we have all seen examples of government-run quangos overspending and underdelivering. The Government could copy and paste proven best practice from other countries, like Belgium, Canada and Germany, all of which leave the running of the scheme to industry, that is to those with the knowledge and skills to deliver a world class system. 

We believe the Government’s current proposals lack ambition.  They won’t establish the effective, efficient, national and fit for the future recycling system the UK so badly needs.  They don’t ringfence the new EPR funding to stop current waste funding for local councils being diverting onto other budget streams. Only by protecting these recycling revenues will the UK be able to drive the scale of investment needed to upgrade our recycling infrastructure and deliver long-term growth for local recycling capabilities.

If the Prime Minister and Chancellor really want to get serious about tackling food and drink inflation, they need to go back to the drawing board on EPR. Experience from around the world tells us that industry should be made responsible for the collection and recycling of packaging materials. We agree. This will act as a powerful incentive to businesses to use less packaging.

International best practice also shows that schemes which are run in the private sector to stretching government targets are proven to drive up recycling rates and the use of recycled materials in everyday products, all while minimising the amount of waste heading to landfill – creating a truly ‘circular economy’.

We want and need an effective Extended Producer Responsibility scheme - so that the yoghurt pots, tin cans and cartons that millions of people diligently wash, sort and leave outside their homes each week are reused. Not a rushed scheme, that’s closer to recycling taxes imposed in Russia and Hungary than it is to the sorts of reforms we need to see supported across the UK’s waste systems. 

The Government must improve these regulations, and then get out of the way. Political manoeuvring and posturing played its part in the downfall of Scottish DRS, and let’s not repeat the same mistakes.

The Government should take a breath, pause and reshape their proposals, and then move forward again with a scheme that everyone has confidence in – consumers, businesses, local authorities, the waste system – that will genuinely improve our natural environment. 

Karen Betts is the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation

This article was originally published in The Times

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Extended Producer Responsibility

Deposit Return Scheme