DESIGNING AND IMPLEMENTING THE FIRST VOLUNTARY EXTENDED PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY (EPR) SCHEME IN THE UK IN PARTNERSHIP WITH PODBACK
We designed a kerbside collection service for coffee pods and brokered partnerships with local authorities. All set against a backdrop of a global pandemic and cost of living crisis.
Podback is a beverage pod recycling service that brings together Nespresso, NESCAFÉ Dolce Gusto, Tassimo and more leading coffee pod brands to ensure every coffee pod enjoyed is recycled. Podback had established that the best way to maximise the number of pods being captured for recycling was to partner with local authorities to offer door-to-door collections. However, due to the innovative nature of this approach, there was no blueprint for such a system. Enter, Eunomia.
First, we designed a practical and efficient kerbside collection service, leaning on our in-depth expertise of practical recycling solutions at a local level. We then utilised our reputation of helping public sector clients implement efficient, cost-effective solutions for recycling to support local authorities through the sign up and mobilisation process – despite them being stretched by the demands of the pandemic.
After a rigorous test-and-learn process, in October 2023 the kerbside collection scheme was collecting beverage pods at the kerbside from over 1 million homes across the UK, with the Podback team working to constantly increase this. Through our partnership with Podback, we have successfully developed a blueprint for hard-to-recycle waste streams – with huge potential for other similar materials like textiles, tech equipment or batteries.
This success came from using our unique combination of design and modelling expertise of waste collection systems, and our social and behavioural science expertise – to encourage recycling amidst a global pandemic and the cost of living crisis.
Podback’s tender called for a partner to design how the scheme would work in practice, before going on to negotiate with local authorities and implement the scheme nationwide.
There were two main challenges. First, there was no precedent for such a system, so it had to be designed entirely from scratch.
Second, it called for local authorities to buy into the initiative. With COVID landing not long after the project began, already stretched local councils had other priorities – and many were not convinced that there were sufficient environmental benefits to make it worth the hassle.
But we knew we were up for the challenge. At Eunomia, we pride ourselves on being socio-environmental problem-solvers. Our exceptional track record of evidence-based advice in policy, combined with our experience of implementing real-world practical solutions, meant we were well placed to tackle the brief. Our strong existing relationships with local authorities also made us the right people for the job.
Our first action was to design the kerbside collection service, leaning on our in-depth expertise of practical recycling solutions at a local level. This included everything from testing the recycling bags at our kitchen tables ensure they didn’t leak, to deciding what container to use, where to puts pods on vehicles, and how to get them off again.
Once we had a viable solution in place, we were able to clearly demonstrate to local authorities that it could be done, with significant environmental benefits and, thanks to Podback’s support, at no financial cost to Councils.
Our reputation of helping public sector clients implement efficient, cost-effective solutions for recycling – and demonstrating we had considered and resolved every potential challenge raised – meant we were able to trial the system with a range of local authorities. This covered different settings such as urban, rural and suburban, as well as different vehicle types. This set in motion a rigorous trial-and-learn system. The final product is a slick, efficient scheme with a full suite of project documentation enabling Podback to seamlessly take the reins.
We helped create a more effective system to enable recycling of a problematic, small-scale material that would otherwise become residual waste, and to support an industry in taking responsibility for reducing its environmental impact.
Our successful proof of concept and ability to overcome initial scepticism helped to make what was once purely conceptual, a reality. In October 2023 the kerbside collection scheme was collecting beverage pods at the kerbside from over 1 million homes across the UK, with the Podback team working to constantly increase this.
Once collected, the coffee pods are taken to UK-based reprocessors, where the plastic or aluminium is separated from the used coffee grounds so it can be recycled into new products. The leftover coffee grounds are treated through a process of anaerobic digestion, which produces both fertiliser and biogas.
This solution chimes with our goal of designing waste out of society, conserving resources and nature to create a planet fit for the future.
While this may be the UK’s first example of a voluntary EPR scheme, it won’t be the last. Through our partnership with Podback, we have developed a blueprint for hard-to-recycle waste streams – with huge potential for other similar materials like textiles, tech equipment or batteries.
We’re excited to see where our expertise in providing appliable, science-led solutions will take us.