I was honoured to have recently been appointment to the ACP - here's why the committee is needed now more than ever.
There could not be a better time to join the Government’s Advisory Committee on Packaging. While stalwarts of packaging and resources industries have kept the creaking Packaging Recovery Note system going through troubled times over the last decade, now is the time for the committee’s advice to look beyond operational aspects and create an improved system that delivers better outcomes.
After much discussion, since the launch of the Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy in 2018, the country is now into the business-end of the decision-making process. The expert committee must help to guide the Government through the tricky terrain of setting up a whole new regulatory environment for packaging.
Governmental advisory groups have earned much greater acclaim in the last year as the need for expert advice was heightened in the response to COVID-19. From the reaction of the public, it would appear that citizens have not “had enough of experts”, as one former Environment Minister put it.
Although the importance of an advisory committee on packaging is not nearly as acute the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), the tendency to demote environmental issues in the policy pecking order is an entrenched governing principle that must be urgently addressed as climate issues themselves become of critical importance.
Impressive breadth and depth of expertise
I have been impressed so by the breadth and depth of expertise within the committee and the collaborative approach taken towards gaining consensus on key issues. However, as with any advice-giving group, the recommendations are only as good as the data they are based on. To put it simply, the quality of data relating to packaging and recycling is simply not good enough and will have to form a major part of the new and improved regulatory system in the UK.
The major shift in the estimated cost of policy changes between the Government’s impact assessments of 2019 and 2021 shows the difficulty in obtaining reliable data from which to base evaluations. Given the rigorous assessment criteria for committee members, there will simply have to be room for expert opinion in the absence of good data.
Due to the time commitments of the committee, I will step down as Chair of the Packaging Scheme Forum from 1 July 2021. Having led the collaboration of expertise and ideas within the packaging compliance scheme community for the last few years, I will miss the facilitative duties that I am so passionate about. Good collaboration is powerful but not easy, even more so when the collaboration is between competing companies in a market context.
Open-mindedness and passion
I still believe there is plenty to be gained from both co-operation and competition in the new system of producer responsibility. I now look forward to focusing my collaborative efforts on a much broader landscape.
Looking forward, I hope to continue to bring an open-mindedness and passion for challenging the status quo to cross-sectoral discussions. The expert committee is certainly a great vehicle for nudging progress on issues where the impact for the average citizen could be huge. The changes required in the coming years may seem massive but as a much wiser person than I once said: “it always seems impossible until it's done”.
Innovation and policy director
Robbie is innovation and policy director at Ecosurety. Having spent years building an intimate understanding of the industry’s policies and politics, he uses this knowledge to help shape new legislation and oversees Ecosurety’s growing portfolio of cross-industry innovation projects including Podback and the Flexible Plastic Fund. He has worked closely with Defra during the most recent packaging consultations, outlining the impacts and required transitional arrangements of the UK’s new EPR system and is a member of the government’s Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP). He is also a spokesperson for the company and regularly uses his influence to communicate the importance of environmental responsibility to external stakeholders.