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UK’s Defra reshuffle: Environmental expert urges consistency on EPR, foodservice and plastics legislation

#UK’s Defra reshuffle: Environmental expert urges consistency on EPR, foodservice and plastics legislation

16 Nov 2023 — In the wake of the recent reshuffle at the UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), compliance expert Ecoveritas has called upon the government to maintain consistency in environmental legislation. Thérèse Coffey’s departure as Environment Secretary, to be replaced by former Health Secretary Steve Barclay, has raised concerns about potential disruptions to ongoing environmental policies.

During Coffey’s one-year tenure, Defra implemented significant environmental initiatives, such as a single-use plastics ban for foodservice outlets and the gradual introduction of extended producer responsibility (EPR) data collection requirements. With her unexpected exit, the fate of these flagship policies now faces a degree of uncertainty.

Andrew McCaffery, chief strategy officer at Ecoveritas, expresses the challenges posed by frequent changes in leadership: “It’s incredibly hard for businesses to build a trusting relationship with Defra when the direction from the top is continually changing.” 

“We would urge the government to take this opportunity to refocus and recommit to its environmental strategy — stay the course and let businesses plan for the future with confidence.”

“Clean slate” for environmental policies?
In her departing letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Coffey highlights that Defra “is the voice and guardian of nature, food security and countryside communities.”graffiti of UK Prime Minister Rishi SunakBritish Prime Minister Rishi Sunak carried out the second cabinet reshuffle on November 13.

“Just in the last year, I was pleased to publish our Environmental Improvement Plan, launch our Plan for Water and help to secure the Global Biodiversity Framework in Montreal and the fund to deliver it. I have strengthened the foundations for Defra to deliver here in the UK and globally, such that this government has achieved more than any other to protect our planet,” she writes.

Coffey was appointed to the role in October 2022 as part of Sunak’s previous reshuffle. During her tenure, the government delayed plans for the rollout of EPR until after the next elections, while plans for a DRS also remain uncertain.

“We’ve already seen uncertainty plague the rollout of the single-use plastic ban and EPR, with many businesses still unsure or unaware of their obligations. Now is the time for the new Environment Secretary to offer clarity on the future of his policy — not more uncertainty.”

Despite the concerns, McCaffery acknowledges the potential for a fresh start: “This does represent a clean slate and a chance to leave the sudden U-turns and tiresome culture war-style discussions around environmental policy behind. We can only hope the government allows the new Secretary of State to take that chance.”

“Data collection remains the only way businesses can act with certainty around their packaging supply chain and the packaging waste they create.”

By Radhika Sikaria

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