Foodservice Footprint eye2 Bumpy start for EPR after big names miss deadline Out of Home News Analysis

Bumpy start for EPR after big names miss deadline

Most major food and drink companies have complied with new packaging reporting requirements. What price will the laggards pay? By David Burrows.

Extended producer responsibility for packaging (or pEPR): the significance of this long-time-coming regulation is in the name. Or it’s meant to be, with those producing packaging responsible for 100% of the costs for collecting, sorting and treating it. So why have hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of businesses decided to ignore a requirement to submit their packaging data? 

To recap, organisations within scope of pEPR – which places responsibility on businesses who use and supply packaging (obligated producers) for the full cost of managing this packaging once it reaches its ‘end of life’ – should have submitted their second six months of packaging data (for the period July 1st, 2023 to December 31st, 2023) by April 1st. However, Defra had given them a bit of breathing space with no enforcement action taken on those submitting data up to May 31st.

That deadline passed last week. On May 29th, The Grocer reported that 2,500 of the 6,000ish companies required to report data had done so. At the Packaging Innovations conference back in February, Defra officials told me they hoped most companies would provide the data they needed to.

The latest list, published June 3rd, runs to more than 6,800 lines but some companies appear to have more than a dozen entries. Trying to unpick who has taken responsibility for their packaging and submitted data as they’re required to do – and who has not – will keep Defra officials busy during the quiet policy period in the run-up to the general election (the so-called ‘purdah’ period).

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) had been considered at greatest risk of missing the deadline. “The UK has 8,000 small and medium-sized businesses with over 250 employees, many of whom will be obligated under EPR,” said Steve Gough, chief executive of compliance scheme Valpak last week. “While we can be sure that the larger names will sign up and provide data – albeit slowly – many of the SMEs may still be unaware of their obligation.”

Yet a Footprint analysis of the latest Defra data shows there are a few big names within the food sector missing too. Looking at 75 of the largest companies in the foodservice, grocery, drinks and hospitality sectors, 18 had yet to submit their reports, including a major supermarket, three notable fast food chains and a handful of well-known food and drink manufacturers. A couple explained they are not within scope of the current regulations. Others said their compliance scheme had all the data, but failed to submit it before the deadline. Some had simply not pressed ‘send’ in time. 

It’ll be a while until the picture becomes clearer on this but the missing data could mean higher fees, experts warned. Companies should also understand that if they are not submitting accurate data about their packaging, then Defra will use generic data that “may not accurately reflect the actual environmental impact of their products, potentially resulting in higher fees than would be the case if accurate company specific reporting”, warned Jill Crawford from law firm Irwin Mitchell.

May deadline day

Our analysis shows there are some well-known companies in the food, drink and hospitality sector that appear to have missed the May 31st deadline. This includes Asda, Leon, Pepsi, Pret A Manger, WSH and Burger King. 

Asda said: “Our EPR submission was completed, approved and submitted to our compliance scheme before the deadline.” Pret said its packaging data was submitted for the period July 1st 2023 to December 31st 2023 on May 30th 2024. “It’s expected this submission will show on the Gov.UK website following its next weekly update,” a spokesperson added. 

Apetito, another to be absent from the latest government list of submissions, said its data was with its compliance scheme; but the scheme had been unable to submit it. Greencore said: “Our EPR packaging data for 2023 is complete and ready for submission at the next opportunity.” PepsiCo’s spokeswoman flagged a “technical issue” that is was working on with its compliance scheme and the Environment Agency.

Among pub groups, Greene King, Punch Pubs, Wetherspoon and Carlsberg Marston’s have all submitted their data. Others like Admiral Taverns and Fuller’s said they are not currently within scope of the regulations, while Young’s said it is “awaiting information from Carlsberg Marston’s – who brew and package Young’s beers – to enable us to make our submission asap”.

Burger King and Leon did not respond to requests for a comment. WSH, meanwhile, blamed an administrative error that resulted in data being uploaded but not submitted. This has now been corrected, the catering company said. 

Pack a punch

Such teething problems were perhaps to be expected: the data reporting requirements being asked of companies are over and above what they are used to. “The amount of data required is significant, and much more in-depth than the existing packaging waste data requirements, so the businesses who have not seen value in gathering the data will simply take the hit,” Dan Coppins, a packaging technologist and sustainability consultant at Pack-Man Consulting, told me recently.

The chances of anyone being penalised for not supplying packaging data are small, however. Experts believe the new government will not be looking to bash businesses. “We’d be surprised if regulators used the full extent of their powers at this point,” Louisa Goodfellow, policy manager at compliance scheme Ecosurety, told me last month just in advance of the May 31st deadline for submissions.

The line from the department is that there are “no plans to extend the deadline. As per the regulations, it is a legal requirement that producers and companies report their data as per the deadline or risk facing enforcement action,” a spokesman added. 

Even if they are penalised, it’s more of a slap on the wrist, than a punch. Defra wouldn’t say what the fines are. They could amount to … £220, according to EPR experts we consulted, which is probably why the government isn’t inclined to advertise them. There is also likely to be some leeway given to those who missed the deadline. 

“I do not think that those that have yet to submit are that concerned,” Coppins explained. “There is no information on what the penalties might be, there is no indication on how it is being tracked. I am hoping that those who have not submitted [data] face penalties worthy of shocking the rest of those who have not [into action, because] EPR is a really important step.”

Mind that gap

Margaret Bates, head of the UK pEPR scheme administrator, has called it a “game changer”. She has also admitted that it won’t be perfect from the get-go. “We have to manage expectations,” she told Packaging News last week. “It’s important we have an EPR scheme that is robust, transparent, credible and fair, but also that it can be improved on.”

Arguably, the better the data the scheme has, the fairer and more credible it will be. Gaps could therefore hamper the effectiveness of the scheme, affecting its ability to accurately assess the packaging waste landscape and to implement measures for reducing environmental impact. 

Obligated businesses that don’t comply could make fees more expensive for those that do, warned the Foodservice Packaging Association last month. “Are businesses doing the right thing going to be paying more because insufficient resource is given to making the EPR requirements known and to enforcing them?” asked executive director Martin Kersh.

There have always been free-riders and late registrants to packaging regimes over the years, and EPR will be no different. There is a feeling that Defra has failed to communicate the new requirements effectively, and relied too heavily on industry groups to disseminate information. Our analysis shows how some large companies are struggling with the new regime. As are the Environment Agency and Defra. “The more data we can get, the more robust our systems will be because we will have more evidence to base them on,” said Bates. “And then the tighter our estimation of fees will be.”

Indeed, if businesses are finding the reporting element tricky, wait until they see the new fees. A call for evidence on those is reportedly coming soon.  The new pEPR regime may well be off to a bumpy start, but the real turbulence is surely yet to come.

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