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UK Retailers May Face Up to £1 Billion in Recycling Costs

A new waste strategy due to be published in a few weeks by the U.K. government this could see supermarkets, beverage manufacturers and retailers cough up tens of millions of pounds more to recycle their used packaging, raising their present contributions from an average of 70 million pounds a year to the vicinity of between 500 million and 1 billion pounds ($643 million t0 $1.3 billion), the Guardian reported on Sunday. 

The move is among a suite of options being considered to tackle the 11 million metric tons of packaging waste produced in the United Kingdom each year, the British newspaper wrote. It also noted plans to swell the ranks of the 7,000-plus companies that currently pay for recycling by adding smaller producers, though threshold ranges have yet to be specified.

Two-thirds of Britain’s packaging waste is exported rather than reprocessed within the country’s borders, which the National Audit Office has slated as a “comfortable way for government to meet targets without facing up to the underlying recycling issues.” Like most first-world nations, the United Kingdom has struggled to find outlets for its plastic waste after China stopped accepting most of what it terms “foreign garbage.” Growing restrictions in countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have complicated matters, too. 

It’s unclear how the European Union’s Strategy for Plastics in the Circular Economy, which became law as part of a broader Circular Economy Action Plan this past July, will shape the U.K. government’s strategy following Brexit, though British waste-management firms have long called for an end to incentives for exporting waste and an increase in investments in domestic recycling instead.

The Guardian wrote that ministers will likely provide up to four options for extended producer responsibility payments by year’s end, varying from retailers and producers directly funding local authorities’ recycling collections, to a tax that would then “trickle down” to local councils.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told the newspaper that it was committed to retooling the current producer responsibility scheme.

“While recycling rates have increased significantly, we want to ensure producers take greater responsibility for the environmental impact of their products, starting with packaging,” she said.

The full proposal is set to roll out later this month.