The packaging war is on.
The British government might have its hands full with the monumental task of shepherding the country through the never-done-before Brexit, but it hasn’t forgotten about sustainability.
It’s planning on forcing companies in the U.K. to foot the whole bill for the cost of disposing or recycling the packaging they produce, up from the 10 percent at the moment — and the beauty and fashion industries won’t be immune.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently consulting on the proposal, which if passed, will go into effect in 2023.
The idea is that forcing companies to pay the full cost will encourage them to stop making packaging that’s excessive or hard to recycle.
“Businesses will bear the full net cost of managing the packaging they handle or place on the market at end of life,” DEFRA said in the consultation document. “Subject to this consultation, this should include the cost of collection, recycling, disposal, the clear-up of littered and fly-tipped packaging, and communications relating to recycling and tackling littering.”
Currently, the British taxpayer shoulders the brunt of the cost, which means that producers have been able to put packaging on to the market without taking account of the true cost of managing it at the end of life.
A change in the rules could put pressure on companies’ margins as it would push up the total cost that producers of packaging across industries — and not just beauty, fashion and retail — have to pay, from about 70 million pounds to between 500 million pounds and 1 billion pounds.
However, while environmental groups have widely welcomed the proposal, they expressed concerns over timing.
“One of our major concerns is around the timing of the proposals in the strategy. The bold extended producer responsibility measures described here aren’t going to kick in until 2023,” Greenpeace’s Alice Hunter wrote in a blog post.
Mary Creagh, chairwoman of the U.K.’s environmental audit committee, has also cautioned that not enough is being done to tackle textile waste.
As for the beauty industry, which has come under the spotlight for the amount of packaging it produces, a spokeswoman for CTPA, the U.K. cosmetic trade association, told WWD that it is currently preparing a response to the consultations.
“Of course, we do not know what the final outcome will be, but whatever the government decides as its final approach the industry will, of course, act to adhere to any new requirements,” she said.
The CTPA also stressed that packaging manufacturers have been innovating in the area of sustainable packaging for some time and are working on solutions to increase the sustainability of packaging.
Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant, for example, recently unveiled reusable packaging innovations across nine of its brands, including four new product formats.
The U.K. isn’t the first to try to tackle this issue. Similar schemes are already in place in some European countries, including Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, while the European Commission is aiming to have mandatory extended producer responsibility schemes in place for all packaging by 2024.
In the U.S., the State of California is mulling the possibility of implementing such a scheme.