Sustainable Waste and Manufacturing: The Impact of COVID-19 on Emerging UK Policy

May 14, 2020 | COVID-19, Insights

The UK Government has begun to develop new regulatory frameworks for the environment, driven by growing industry, political and consumer pressure to push forward the sustainability agenda, and prompted by the separation of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU). However, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, some of these regulatory developments are experiencing disruption and delays.

Here, we outline the key pieces of upcoming legislation, policies, and strategies which have been created to drive forward the sustainability agenda in the UK’s waste and manufacturing sectors, and where the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting their development. Key updates have also been included from the EU.

Environment Bill – UK

Introduction date: October 15, 2019
Status: Delayed
Description: The aim of the Bill is to set targets, plans and policies for tackling the environmental and climate crisis and to deliver on the UK’s 25 Year Environment Plan. The Bill includes resource and waste management, air quality, water usage, restoring green spaces, and the regulation of chemicals (an amendment of REACH legislation).
COVID-19 update: This Bill was under consideration by a Public Bill Committee, but due to the current global pandemic, the sittings of the Committee have been suspended until further notice.


Plastic Packaging Tax – UK

Introduction date: April 2022
Status: Ongoing
Description: This tax will apply to plastic packaging, produced in, or imported into the UK that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic. The tax aims to provide an economic incentive for businesses to increase the amount of recycled materials used in the production of plastic packaging. This will result in less plastic waste being directed to landfill or incineration and an increase in recycling as demand for this material increases.
COVID-19 update: There are no current plans to delay the introduction of this tax.


Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) – UK

Introduction date: 2023
Status: Delayed
Description: This new system will reform the UK’s existing EPR arrangements. The scheme aims to make producers responsible for the full net costs of managing their products at end of life. Reforms will include fees that incentivise producers to design products with recycling and recyclability in mind. The fees will be used to fund improved recycling collections and infrastructure.
COVID-19 update: The powers to extend the UK’s producer responsibility systems will be introduced via the Environment Bill. As the Environmental Bill is delayed (see above), the EPR scheme is likely to experience similar delays.


Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) – England and Wales

Introduction date: 2023
Status: Delayed
Description: The Deposit Return Scheme aims to reduce littering and increase recycling of drink containers in England and Wales, by incentivising users to return them. The DRS could also aid the UK’s transition to a circular economy by helping to incentivise increased recycling. A proposed scope will be presented in the second consultation in 2020, including specific details about the materials which will be included.
COVID-19 update:  This scheme will be introduced via the Environmental Bill. As the Environmental Bill is delayed (see above), the DRS scheme is likely to experience similar delays.


Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) – Scotland

Introduction date: 1st July 2022
Status: Ongoing
Description: Similar to the scheme due to be introduced in England and Wales, the Scottish Deposit Return Scheme aims to improve recycling rates and reduce litter by establishing an incentive for users to return drinks containers. The scheme will place a deposit on drinks containers including those made from PET plastic, metal and glass. A draft piece of legislation was laid in the Scottish Parliament in March 2020 and is now being considered by parliament. Elements of the scheme, including applications for scheme administrators and producer registration will come into effect before the introduction date.
COVID-19 update: Following stakeholder consultation, the implementation of the DRS has already pushed back from 2021 to 2022, allowing for potential delays due to COVID-19. No further delays are expected.


Circular Economy Bill – Scotland

Introduction date: Unknown
Status: On hold
Description: The Circular Economy Bill forms part of wider plans for a new approach to reducing, reusing, and recycling materials to help drive Scotland’s circular economy. A circular economy is an alternative to the traditional linear economy of take–make–dispose, which fails to fully utilise the potential of many products and services.
The public consultation on this Bill closed on 19th December 2019.
COVID-19 update: On 1st April 2020, the Scottish Government announced the prioritisation of legislation during the current COVID-19 crisis. The Circular Economy Bill is one of the bills that will not be progressed, but similar legislation may be bought forward in the future.


Standards for Biodegradable, Compostable and Bio-based Plastics – UK

Introduction date: Unknown
Status: Ongoing
Description: The UK Government formed a consultation to develop standards or certification for bio-based, biodegradable, and compostable plastics, and to develop an understanding of their environmental impacts. The consultation asks for evidence on the overall sustainability of bio-based and biodegradable plastic products, improving plastic degradation standards, and the design and implementation of standards for biodegradable plastics.
Standards and certification will also include littering and issues affecting recycling and disposal routes.
The consultation phase ended on 4th October 2019, and we are currently awaiting the results.
COVID-19 update: There have been no reported delays due to COVID-19, but increased pressure on plastics, regarding possible trade-offs between plastic choice and hygiene, could affect the direction of this policy development.


Single-Use Packaging (SUP) Directive – EU

Introduction date: 2021
Status: Ongoing
Description: The SUP Directive was proposed as part of the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy and is an essential element of the Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan. The Directive aims to reduce the amount of single-use plastics consumed and to aid the transition to the reuse of plastics. It establishes varied measures for product categories, depending on factors such as the availability of alternative products. These measures include outright bans, obligations to reduce consumption of key single-use plastic items, and Extended Producer Responsibility schemes (EPR).
COVID-19 update: There are no plans to delay the SUP Directive, therefore member states still have one year to transpose the SUP Directive into national law.


Circular Economy Action Plan – EU

Date: Unknown
Status: Ongoing
Description: The Circular Economy Action Plan is one of the main parts of the European Green Deal, Europe’s new agenda for sustainable growth. The Plan focuses on design and production for a circular economy and outlines measures to ensure that products are designed to last longer and are easier to reuse, repair and recycle.
This plan was adopted in March 2020, with policies stemming from the plan to be implemented over the coming months and years.
COVID-19 update: There have been no delays announced on the implementation of the plan. Stakeholder consultation is currently underway (closing date 1st May) focusing on helping the environment and the COVID-19 economic recovery.


REACH Updates – EU

Introduction date: January 2021
Status: Ongoing
Description: REACH is the regulation regarding the registration, evaluation, authorization, and restriction of chemicals. As of 5th January 2021, producers and importers in the EU will be required to provide detailed information on the presence of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) within their products. A new database is currently being developed to monitor these products and to make the data available to waste operators and consumers, as part of the EU’s Waste Framework Directive. The SVHC Candidate List currently contains 205 substances but is typically updated twice per year.
COVID-19 update: ECHA is expecting minimal delays to its regulatory work during the pandemic.


Increasing Business Recycling – Wales

Introduction date: Unknown
Status: Ongoing
Description: Proposals to encourage recycling and appropriate waste disposal from non-domestic premises have been drafted. The legislation will include the ban of certain separately collected recyclable materials from incineration and landfill and the disposal of food waste to sewer from business premises. The consultation on this subject closed on 3rd December 2019 with the responses currently being reviewed. The outcomes are said to be published ‘in due course’.
COVID-19 update: Progress on this legislation has been maintained with no delays announced.


Beyond Recycling Strategy – Wales

Introduction date: 2020
Status: Ongoing
Description: The ‘Beyond Recycling’ strategy aims to move Wales towards a circular economy and sets out proposals to move towards zero waste and to reduce emissions by 2050. This includes eliminating waste that goes to landfill, ensuring that materials can be reused or recycled and reducing the quantity of waste produced.
The consultation on this strategy ended in April 2020.
COVID-19 update: Progress on this strategy has been maintained with no delays announced.

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Debbie Hitchen
Director, UK

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