How technology can help organizations put their houses in order

Plastic is everywhere. This way we keep our food fresh for a longer time. It is used in the toys we give our children at Christmas. Also, hospitals stock life-saving drugs to treat patients.

It is practical, indestructible and necessary. In fact, it’s so deeply ingrained in our everyday lives that you’d be forgiven for not even noticing its existence. Yet while its use is inevitable – a necessary evil, if you will – governments, businesses and society are collaborating on ways to limit the waste and pollution it causes.

This can’t come soon enough. In the UK it is believed that some five million tons of plastic are used every year. It is a highly non-biodegradable plastic, designed to degrade in a landfill over centuries without any intervention. The impact of this plastic on the environment is catastrophic – c words of the UN: “Plastic pollution can alter habitats and natural processes, reducing the ability of ecosystems to adapt to climate change, directly affecting the livelihoods of millions of people, food production opportunities and social well-being.”

The good news is that governments across Europe are introducing regulations designed to help organizations manage their plastic waste. In response, the UK introduced Extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme.

This is an important step to embed circular processes in the life cycle of plastics. Understandably, many UK businesses (such as retailers, manufacturers and food producers) are now wondering what this means for them, what they will have to report and the consequences if they don’t.

Breaking the EPR

Those organizations affected by the EPR scheme for packaging will, simply put, have to report this data. This new set of regulations will apply to all organizations in the UK that import or supply packaging.

However, there are some qualifiers. If all of the following apply, companies must collect and report their data:

  • you are a sole proprietorship, subsidiary or group (but not a charity)
  • you have an annual turnover of £1m or more (based on your latest annual accounts)
  • you were responsible for more than 25 tonnes of packaging in 2022
  • perform any of the packaging activities

The breadth of those affected here is wide. From supermarket chains to car manufacturers, there are many organizations that will need to provide information about this data.

When is EPR coming?

Well, that’s the five million ton question. Although the government initially targeted 2024 as the scheme’s effective date, it has postponed to October 2025. It was met with a mixed reaction from industry bodies, think tanks and companies in the UK – with some criticizing the government for being slow to regulate the environment and others saying they appreciated having more time to implement the necessary changes.

There is still momentum for organizations to get their houses in order sooner rather than later. As the government’s website says: “EPRs for packaging charges have been deferred for one year. You will not have to pay any EPR for packaging charges in 2024. However, you must follow these guidelines and report your packaging data for 2023.”

Plastic regulations are piling up

This is not the first piece of legislation introduced by the UK to try to enforce best practice around plastics management.

Last April, the government introduced the first Plastic Packaging Tax (UK PPT) to be rolled out globally. This legislation aims to tax £200 per metric tonne of plastic packaging produced or imported into the UK that does not contain at least 30 per cent recycled plastic.

Just like their mainland European counterparts, UK companies face two key challenges: getting the data to prepare their tax return and processing it to make tax decisions. With the implementation of EPR just around the corner, this lack of visibility into a company’s plastic commitments can lead to serious fines for affected organizations.

How technology is key to helping businesses get their houses in order

Technology is a crucial weapon in the arsenal to help companies mitigate concerns around new environmental legislation.

It can help companies struggling to comply with these new regulations in several ways – by enabling them to build circularity into product design from the start. Or even gaining greater visibility into where logistics and materials data resides, including packaging composition information – which must be reported under the EPR scheme.

The ultimate goal of this technology is to help organizations by improving the way they track increasingly important environmental data and gain better oversight of material flows across all business processes. Improved “traceability” helps increase the accuracy of plastic tax payments, reduces compliance risks and increases circularity.

Although the immediate effects of the EPR have been delayed until October 2025, the introduction of this scheme should act as a prompt for organizations to start improving the way they tackle plastic pollution. While the importance of legislation like this cannot be overstated, companies are understandably concerned about what it means for them. But with the help of powerful technology, organizations can comply with legislation, improve efficiency and drive circular processes, which ultimately benefits the planet.

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