A deposit return scheme to increase recycling rates and cut the amount of waste and litter polluting land and sea will be introduced in the UK subject to consultation later this year.
“We can be in no doubt that plastic is wreaking havoc on our marine environment – killing dolphins, choking turtles and degrading our most precious habitats,” explained Environment Secretary Michael Gove. “It is absolutely vital we act now to tackle this threat and curb the millions of plastic bottles a day that go unrecycled.
The government noted that UK consumers go through an estimated 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year, but more than three billion are incinerated, sent to landfill or left to pollute our streets, countryside and marine environment.
To tackle this blight it confirmed that it will introduce a deposit return scheme in England for single use drinks containers (whether plastic, glass or metal), subject to consultation later this year.
Similar schemes already operate in countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Germany. A deposit return scheme sees consumers pay an up-front deposit when they buy a drink, ranging from 8p in Sweden to 22p in Germany, which is redeemed on return of the empty drink container.
Possible variants of a deposit return scheme include cash rewards for returning drinks containers without an upfront deposit.
This is often done through a network of ‘reverse vending machines’, where a plastic or glass bottle, or can, are inserted into the machine which returns the deposit.
Once a bottle is returned, businesses are then responsible for making sure they are effectively recycled – a move that the government said has led to a 97% recycling rate in Germany.
“We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use, and now we want to take action on plastic bottles to help clean up our oceans,” said Gove.
Author Bill Bryson, a former president of Campaign to Protect Rural England, added:
“Future generations will look back on this decision as a piece of supremely enlightened policymaking, and one that raises the prospect of the world’s most beautiful country becoming free from drinks container litter at last.”
Following receipt of the Voluntary and Economics Incentives Working Group report on single use drinks containers, Defra is now developing plans for a deposit return scheme for consultation later this year.
The move sits alongside the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan to eliminate avoidable plastic waste.
The consultation will follow the recent call for evidence by HM Treasury on taxes and charges to reduce waste from single-use plastics, so that all relevant findings can be fed into the proposals.
It will look at the details of how such a scheme would work, alongside other measures to increase recycling rates.
The government said that it hopes to talk to the devolved administrations about the scope for working together on this important issue.
Chartered Institution of Wastes Management
Responding to the Government’s announcement CIWM said that government action on packaging is important and welcome but there is a lot of detail still to be worked through on the scope and implementation of a DRS scheme.
Dr Colin Church, chief executive of CIWM, commented:
“The Government’s clear intent to act on packaging and develop new measures and interventions to promote reduction and recycling is very welcome. However, any new schemes or taxes must be considered and implemented as part of a wider, coherent set of policies to deliver the ambitions on zero avoidable waste and greater resource productivity that have been expressed in the last few months.
“In scoping the ‘reach’ of any DRS system, it will be important to ensure there are no unintended consequences, such as the potential for a threshold effect which might see the size of beverage containers adjusted in future to fall outside the DRS criteria, for example.
"There also continues to be concern about the impact on local authority collections which must be explored more fully. These and a range of other issues have still to be debated and Zero Waste Scotland’s current work looking at the options should also be an important contribution.”
Estelle Brachlianoff, Senior Executive Vice-President at Veolia UK & Ireland said: “We are in favour of any proposal that helps to improve recycling rates. If more bottles are recovered instead of needlessly discarded, we will sort and recycle them, keeping more in the loop and away from landfill or our oceans.
“To truly lessen our environmental impact as well as improving the culture of recycling, there is still plenty to do. For instance, we would like to see manufacturers awarded incentives for including a significant percentage of recycled content in their product. This will accelerate demand for recycled material.
“Increasing recycling rates is an ambition we all share, but we must see collaboration between designers, reprocessors, consumers and manufacturers in order to realise it.
“We view waste material as a vital commodity, something to harness and repurpose into new product, giving it a second, third or fourth life. When manufacturers start using a considerable amount of recycled content in their products, this will be the turning of the tides we’ve all been waiting for.”
Viridor also welcomed the deposit return scheme. In a statement it said:
“Any well-designed policy and regulation that will lead to an increase in recycling quality and participation is welcome, and Viridor looks forward to the detail and consultation.
“The success of a DRS will depend on the design and competitiveness of the chosen scheme, i.e. the scope of the materials to be included and how the material collected at retail points is then made available to the recycling and reprocessing markets.
“Overlaying a DRS onto existing recycling collections and services will create impacts for local authorities and their contracted service providers. FThis will need to be carefully considered to ensure that we build on, rather than detract from, the progress made in municipal recycling to date.
“It will also be important to consider the interaction between the proposed DRS and other regulatory measures, including the forthcoming revised packaging regulations, which could have a much greater overall positive impact on improved resource efficiency and resource management in the UK.
“Forecast benefits from deposit return schemes have primarily focused on litter prevention. It will be important to model the actual capture rates and material flows to fully assess wider benefits for recycling and resource efficiency.”
Vanden Recycling UK managing director David Wilson added: "The proposed DRS should be seen as a positive for plastic recycling in the UK. We currently have very good recycling collections for bottles from home, and DRS should help to improve the ability of consumers to recycle their drinks bottles when out and about.
"It should also help litter control and aid an increase in recycling rates of bottles. We also applaud anything that should lead to a higher quality stream of material, and DRS has been proven to do this.
"However, we need to work through the detail of the proposal, particularly to see which bottles are included and which are excluded.
"Michael Gove and Defra are taking a collaborative approach to improving recycling in general, and we also welcome that the recycling industry and other stakeholders are being involved in these discussions with Government.
"Currently, stakeholders across the plastic supply chain are developing a coherent plan to improve plastic recycling. This includes people from manufacturers, retailers, the recycling sector and local government, along with WRAP and INCPEN to bring it all together.
"Together, we are aiming to develop a multi-layered strategy, of which DRS has a place, that will improve plastic recycling in the long term."
The Recycling Association’s chief executive Simon Ellin commented: "Normally, we would welcome any proposal that in principle would lead to an improvement in quality. Clearly, a deposit return scheme for plastics bottles, glass bottles and cans is likely to lead to a purer stream of material to recycle.
"However, we must be careful we do not throw the baby out with the bath water. We need to understand what this will mean for the entire domestic recycling system. For example, how will local authorities replace what is a valuable revenue stream for them and could this make collections of other material such as cardboard and paper uneconomic for local authorities? Could this then make the quality of other material worse if collection systems cannot be properly funded?
"Rather than introduce one solution to one issue, we need to ensure we look at the UK recycling system as a whole, and see if deposit return schemes can be a part of that.
“There is already a review of Extended Producer Responsibility being undertaken by the Advisory Committee on Packaging as part of the Resources & Waste Strategy, and it could be this could lead to more appropriate funding levels to address recycling performance and littering while maintaining existing infrastructure and quality levels."
James Piper, managing director at compliance firm Ecosurety, which helps companies that produce products meet EU regulations on waste and targets, said:
“ We welcome in principle any initiative aimed at improving UK recycling, however the real question now is whether the UK has the correct infrastructure, i.e capacity inside its recycling plants, to deal with the increase in glass, plastic and steel and aluminium cans that will be generated from such a scheme.
“We don’t want to see a situation whereby millions more tonnes of plastic are collected but sit dormant in warehouses, or worse, outside exposed to the elements, because there is nowhere inside the UK to recycle them.
“We agree with the position adopted by Defra’s own Voluntary and Economics Incentives Group, which suggests that the success of any deposit scheme will very much depend on the type chosen, that it needs to be well-designed and drawn up in consultation with businesses, in order to capture high quality material and provide a benefit.
“The Government needs to create a transparent, joined up recycling system so that the consumer can see exactly what happens when they recycle their plastic bottles or drinks cans, to maintain faith that everything the UK collects is recycled. “
Automated customer services systems specialist, Diebold Nixdorf, UK welcomed the move. Ben Gale, VP and Managing Director commented:
“This a positive step in efforts to tackle waste pollution and, as evidence from other countries shows, such schemes have the potential to significantly improve recycling rates on plastic, glass and metal.
“It will require all those in the recycling value chain to work together effectively, including retailers, manufacturers, national and local government. It is important to keep the scheme simple and effective, with a clearly defined scope for the appropriate empty containers and an effective way of determining the right value per container.
“It will also require the appropriate use and maintenance of recycling technologies and an effective way of educating consumers.”
The British Plastics Federation
In a statement the BPF welcomed the scheme and the fact it is going to include all materials and aims to boost recycling rates for all drinks containers.
“We agree with Michael Gove that our mission should be to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. We are already working closely alongside brands and retailers, as well as NGOs, to tackle the issue of plastic waste and to make sure that we stop litter entering our rivers and seas.
“We feel it is important that aluminium cans and glass bottles are also included in any deposit return scheme because – and this is a surprise to many – plastic bottles account for only 2% of litter and 20% of littered beverage packaging. For the sake of the environment, we want the scheme to reduce all littered beverage items found in our parks, rivers, beaches and streets.
“The UK has a fairly encouraging record on recycling plastic drink bottles, which currently sits at 74%. Now is the time for collaborative action to improve this figure across the whole country. We all want a future where it is simple, clear, and easy for people to recycle – whether they are in their home or out and about – and that starts now.”
Rick Hindley, executive director of Alupro added: “We welcome any measure that effectively increases recycling and reduces litter. Aluminium packaging is already widely recycled; 70% of beverage cans are currently recycled, and independent research shows that in 12 years the existing collection infrastructure will deliver a 90% recycling rate for all aluminium packaging.
“We want to contribute to what we trust will be a thorough and considered consultation, including understanding the impact of DRS on the existing household recycling kerbside collection system.
“On the issue of litter, we believe a significant communication and education programme is required, if the habits of a few are to be changed. In the meantime, we are working with Government and others with regards reform of the UK packaging producer responsibility system.”