Deposit Return Scheme On Plastic Bottles “Unlikely” [UPDATED]

The Government is likely to reject proposals for a deposit return scheme (DRS) on plastic bottles, as a way of encouraging recycling, according to reports.

The Daily Mail has reported a Government “insider” said such a scheme would be “unlikely” to get the go-ahead “despite evidence it could slash litter and boost recycling”.

Last month, ministers were reported to be considering a 10p or 20p levy on plastic bottles and containers, which customers could reclaim if they returned it. Green Party co-leader, Caroline Lucas, voiced her support of such a scheme at the end of last year.

According to Lucas, a DRS would help “dramatically increase the collection rate of plastic bottles and other containers, helping to protect the environment and to save local authorities and taxpayers money”.

38.5m plastic bottles are used every day the UK and that, along with cans, plastic bottles account for approximately 40%, by volume, of all litter found in the environment.

A Defra spokesman told the Daily Mail: “There are no plans for a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles… Almost all local authorities now collect plastic bottles as part of their general waste collection services.”

Lucas says a DRS will help ensure that these bottles and cans stay in the recycling economy rather than polluting the environment.

A deposit return system has already seen a trial in Scotland and ministers are reportedly evaluating the results of a number of pilots for England.

Defra is currently developing a new litter strategy for England, which could address the issue of “single-use” plastic bottles that are not recycled at home, and the department’s 25 year Environment Plan is expected to be published within weeks.

A Defra spokesman told the Daily Mail: “There are no plans for a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles.

“We have made great progress in boosting recycling rates and making more products recyclable, but there is still much more to be done.

“Almost all local authorities now collect plastic bottles as part of their general waste collection services.”

The DRS is not without opposition, however. Jane Bickerstaffe, director of INCPEN – The Industry Council for Research on Packaging & the Environment – recently said that container deposit schemes both undermine recycling and fail to prevent litter.

She said: “Everyone agrees litter and littering is bad but it is still an issue. The solution is for everyone – individuals, industry, campaign groups, local and central governments – to join forces to prevent all litter. Any piece of litter spoils the environment and makes it look uncared for.

“There is no point in clearing up just some of it because litter breeds litter. That’s why initiatives like bottle deposits return schemes don’t work. They target just one type and leave the rest to attract more. Like the broken window syndrome, even one piece of any sort of litter can encourage people to add to it.”

Deposit Return Schemes

The Swedish deposit return scheme was introduced for cans in 1984 and extended to plastic bottles in 1994. It adds a deposit to the cost of drinks, which is refunded when the container is returned. The scheme currently achieves recycling rates of 85 percent. Similar schemes also work in other countries such as Denmark and Norway.

The Scottish Government announced research into the feasibility of a deposit return scheme in August last year, specifically with regards to “on-the-go” drinks packaging.

An opinion poll conducted by the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland revealed that 78% of Scots are in favour of a drinks deposit scheme, however, the Packaging Recycling Group Scotland has publically opposed the scheme, recommending alternative proposals to promote recycling.

In June last year, Scotland officials met with the UK Government to discuss the potential for a deposit return scheme for drinks bottles and cans across the UK and Northern Ireland’s then Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan, also announced he was considering the introduction of a money back on bottles scheme to help boost recycling.

In January, Scotland’s then Environment Secretary, Richard Lochhead, announced he had commissioned further research into deposit return schemes

Zero Waste Scotland led a consultation on the subject and received 63 responses from stakeholders including from ASDA, Coca Cola, Sainsbury’s and Britvic.

Coca Cola responded, saying: “We agree with Keep Scotland Beautiful who say: “The scale of the investment that would be required to roll out a DRS, and the lack of evidence that it would deliver any significant reduction in litter, means a DRS is not the right solution to the litter problem in Scotland at this time.”

ASDA said: “It is our view, however, that the introduction of a DRS would be a regressive step that would penalize people on low incomes and cause serious inconvenience for shoppers, many of whom play an effective part in recycling.”

UPDATED 16 February

190,000 people have signed a petition to “bring back bottle deposits to stop plastic pollution in our oceans”.

The petition, started by Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) and hosted on 38 Degrees, states that placing a small deposit on plastic bottles and cans would “dramatically increase recycling and reduce marine plastic pollution”.

A delegation from SAS will deliver the petition signatures to Government once it has met its goal of reaching 200,000 signatories.

Among those who have sign the petition is comedian and TV personality, Rory Bremner.


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  1. Actually the Daily Mail has no ‘evidence’ whatsoever that deposit return schemes would ‘slash litter and boost recycling. The latest information from Keep Scotland Beautiful (sponsored by INCPEN) shows that since the 5p carrier bag charge was introduced in Scotland there’s more carriers in litter than there was before the 5p charge started and in fact the number of drinks containers and coffee cups has actually decreased in the same period (vide this month’s CIWM Journal).
    Commonsense has prevailed and the Government is right to throw out this absurd idea that because DRS schemes work in EU countries (according to the Daily Mail) these would somehow work here. They won’t (and don’t as proved by Barr’s Irn Bru ending a DRS scheme last year that had been in existence for decades).

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