Retailers and food manufacturers are stepping up their campaign to urge the government to delay landmark environmental reforms that would force them to pay for the collection and recycling of household packaging waste from next year.
Industry bosses have warned that the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme, due to come into effect in April 2024, would drive up shopping bills further amid the cost-of-living crisis.
Under the plans, food producers and retailers that sell own-brand products will be obliged to report packaging waste data from January next year and pay the full cost of packaging waste disposal from April. The changes apply to companies with turnover of £1 million or more, and the money would be paid to local councils to help fund green bin collections.
The Guardian reported that in meetings summoned by prime minister Rishi Sunak to address the rising food inflation, supermarket bosses and food manufacturers asked ministers to halt the launch of the EPR scheme.
Business leaders argue the scheme will cost at least £1.7bn a year, saying the bulk of the cost would be passed on to consumers through higher prices on the supermarket shelves.
Karen Betts, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said, “They should consider delaying the EPR to take that cost out of pricing while inflation remains very high. It would seem to us to be a sensible thing to do.
“We’re seeing the government rushing through legislation so they’re not accused of backsliding on environmental commitments. But the result is you have a very muddled, confused scheme which we think won’t work. Not only is it going to cost consumers more, but because it’s not ready- it’s even worse.”
The British Retail Consortium reportedly has also asked the government to “urgently rethink” the recycling reforms.
Campaigners, on the other hand, are warning of devastating consequences for the environment if EPR is pushed further while council leaders said failure to act would mean council-tax payers continue to shoulder all recycling costs rather than sharing it with corporations.
They argue the scheme will cost less than suggested by industry lobbyists because it discourages wasteful packaging and promotes recycling.
Cllr Linda Taylor, the environment spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said, “Currently taxpayers foot the bill for processing the waste, often dealing with excessive packaging and the challenges of material that is difficult to recycle.
“Councils have been planning for the introduction of EPR in 2024 following previous delays and would be disappointed by another delay creating further uncertainties related to the waste reforms that risk delaying investment,” the report quoted Taylor as saying.