It’s been yet another bumper month for green policy announcements, from Rishi Sunak setting out plans for green sovereign bonds in the Budget, and offering investors the chance to accelerate the UK’s push towards net zero, to the launch of a new Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy. We’ve also seen further details emerge of DEFRA’s plans for waste prevention and management, carrying big potential implications for food, fashion and textiles amongst other sectors.

We’ve rounded up three of the key developments worth knowing about.

  1. Packaging consultations launched


Two of DEFRA’s long-awaited packaging consultations, first announced in the landmark Resources and Waste Strategy, were published this month: on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging and Deposit Return Schemes for drinks containers. The reforms will have major implications for brand owners, manufacturers and retailers alike, and form part of a fundamental shift towards the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

The new EPR system will see producers become responsible for the ‘full net cost’ of managing the packaging they place on the market; a significant departure from the current system where costs are shared across the value chain, with local authorities picking up some of the overall bill. DEFRA’s official estimate of the cost to producers in the first full year of implementation has more than doubled – from £1.1bn to £2.7bn. Industry figures have warned that the true cost could in fact be even higher.

A third consultation on standardising waste collections across England was expected to be released alongside the EPR and DRS proposals – but is yet to materialise. While the Government’s direction of travel on these measures is hinted at throughout the EPR consultation, the devil is in the detail and industry will be keenly awaiting the publication.

  1. New proposals to ramp up action on textiles waste

The fashion industry accounts for around 10% of global emissions, more than all international flights and shipping combined[1], and the rise of ‘fast fashion’ is widely seen as exacerbating this problem. Against this backdrop, DEFRA has set out new proposals to encourage industry to design, manufacture, and label products in a better and more resource-efficient way.

The Government is seeking views on introducing an EPR scheme for textiles, which would see the industry contribute to recycling costs, as well as setting minimum standards for durability and recycled content, and improving labelling on clothing. The measures form part of the department’s broader Waste Prevention Programme, which was last refreshed back in 2013.

Textiles and fashion aren’t the only sectors that could see the phasing in of a new EPR scheme. DEFRA has also announced that it is considering making tobacco firms pay for the clean-up of cigarette waste – which continue to be the most commonly littered items in England. All of these changes will be accounted for in the Environment Bill, due to return to the Commons in the next parliamentary session, after the Government pushed it back earlier in the year.

  1. The end of the much-promoted Green Homes Grant

While not strictly a policy change, the wrapping up of the Green Homes Grant is worth noting as it raises questions about the Government’s overall administration of the net zero transition. The landmark scheme was first announced last summer and was expected to act as an economic and jobs stimulus in the midst of the pandemic, whilst also helping the country to decarbonise its housing stock – a critical part of meeting the UK’s net zero target.

However, the scheme has been cut short after only six months, due to limited uptake and administrative challenges, with the grant reaching only 10% of the 600,000 homes originally promised. Reports suggest that construction companies faced extended delays to payments, leaving them out of pocket and, in some cases, forced to make redundancies (a far cry from the thousands of ‘green jobs’ expected to be created by the scheme).

Criticism has centred on the Government’s ‘stop-start’ approach to funding around energy efficiency, with industry figures and campaigners stressing the need for a long-term, national retrofit strategy.

The challenges faced by the Green Homes Grant scheme are illustrative of wider questions raised about the Government’s approach to achieving net zero. These include the need for a more concerted public engagement effort, and to develop the necessary skills base and supply chains to deliver against the 2050 target.

More broadly, despite the flurry of activity we have seen over recent weeks, the Government has continued to face criticism for lacking a joined-up and integrated policy approach, with the green economy reiterating its calls for greater clarity and detail, rather than a “plethora of strategies”.

Looking ahead, this pressure is only likely to build as we approach the COP26 summit in November, with high expectations on the UK to lead by example in both policy-making, delivery and communications.

[1] World Bank: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2019/09/23/costo-moda-medio-ambiente

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