In a transparent circular economy we all pay

We hear a lot in these post Blue Planet days about the virtues and desirability of a circular economy; an economy in which we all play our part to reduce, re-use and recycle, thereby reducing our impact upon our shared environment.

By and large business accepts the broad principles of the circular economy; not least because the consumer – the ultimate driver of business – is a necessary and key part of the ‘cradle to cradle’ strategy. The circular economy is merely a pipe dream if the consumer is not properly equipped and motivated to consume, re-use and recycle in the appropriate manner.

However, and from time to time, old ideas, habits and fallacies keep reasserting themselves: The latest such instance to resurface is contained in the working papers of the EU’s Circular Economy Package, a measure intended to deliver a more resource-efficient future for Europe.

And yet the authors of the EU’s latest waste legislative proposals are gravely mistaken if they believe that their notions of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) will help rather than hinder their cause.

Firstly, the notion of Extended Producer Responsibility is at odds with a properly functioning Circular Economy. EPR implies that today’s consumers are entitled to take a ‘pass’ when it comes to bearing the true cost and economic consequences of circular economy measures.

Nothing could be further from the truth. For some time now I have been pointing out that a truly holistic economy spares no part of it and no one in responsibility. It is evident that we all produce and consume. Society’s production and consumption is a seamless weave. And ultimately we all ‘pay’ for both activities.

The text of the draft EU legislation, however, is believed to suggest that producers alone will be required to pay for up to 80% of new programmes and EU programmes and 50% for existing national programmes.

Perhaps the EU believes that it has caught the public mood. The current economic climate – in the UK and throughout Europe – sees all parts of Government sorely strapped for cash. Perhaps Brussels guesses that grass roots sympathies will line up in support of another tax on business. Maybe so, but business is business and these costs will simply be passed on.

Whether the retail industries will then succeed in passing on the pain to the consumer is currently debatable. UK Supermarkets for one are as price competitive with each other as ever. Suppliers may be stone-walled on increase and their margins further squeezed. Business will then suffer and consumers will then have less.

In any event, is it not time that the EU gave up splitting its circular economy in this manner and stopped scapegoating producers? A truly circular economy would involve very different scenarios and a new kind of political courage that has been in scant supply for too long.

We await the final draft of the Circular Economy Package with keen interest.

Many thanks

Dick Searle