The Government’s approach to labelling retailer and brand packaging risks adding unnecessary business costs. As global leaders in recycling labelling, the UK can do better.
The Environment Bill covers diverse issues from wildlife to plastics, regulators to resource efficiency. As ever the devil is in the detail and getting that right requires evidence and insight if the costs falling on regulated businesses are to be minimised. Getting labelling right could save UK business over a quarter of a billion pounds annually.
The evidence points clearly to a single mandated label design, universally applied, that engages consumers effectively. Research shows confusion about whether something can be recycled is the biggest barrier to recycling with 59 percent of people saying it’s an issue for them. That’s why 9 in 10 of us check packaging for recycling information from time to time, and 1 in 3 at point of purchase.
The consequence of confusion is increased contamination, lost materials (with additional implications for Plastics Tax liabilities) and lost revenues. The North London Waste Authority, covering seven London boroughs, reports 15 percent of its dry recycling collections (essentially packaging plus paper) is non-target items, resulting in 4 percent rejected loads at sorting facilities and 11 percent waste extracted during sorting. Currently that adds (unnecessarily) to Council Tax bills, but with Extended Producer Responsibility regulations (EPR) it will be obligated brands and retailers who’ll bear the cost. EPR fees will be based on net cost of collection and disposal so the lower the contamination, the lower the fees.
We can and should improve performance. The UK led the way in developing the world’s first infrastructure-determined on-pack recycling label, OPRL, launched in 2009 with the backing of leading brands and retailers. It incorporated design features linking to local authority recycling messaging (the Recycle Now ‘Swoosh’) and used consumer research to determine how best to get the message across.
That evidenced approach continues to this day with latest design improvements delivering a 9 percent uplift in consumer understanding. Meanwhile labelling schemes in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – and soon, Singapore – emulate OPRL. Repeated studies by the UN Environment Programme, Consumers International and the Environmental Collaboration on Standards cite OPRL and its imitators as global best practice. Nearly 700 UK businesses and charities agree, using OPRL on hundreds of thousands of packaging lines.
Saving 10 percent of the costs of EPR ie about £270m annually, is a credible goal. Driving down contamination and ramping up recycling of target packaging could deliver these savings. It could be achieved simply by using a single, recognised, clear and understood mandatory recycling label.
Government, however, isn’t listening. It’s determined to allow multiple labels that will add to consumer confusion and business costs. We’ve provided the evidence. Now we’re mobilising public opinion through our #MakeItEasy campaign, backed by major brands, retailers, packaging manufacturers, councils, waste management experts and consumer group Which?.
Watch our short video here:
If you agree, join us too: https://bit.ly/MakeItEasy2Recycle].