Bottle Recycling : UK: Call for bottle deposit scheme grows loud

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Each year, 13 billion plastic drinks bottles are used in the UK. Less than half of them are recycled, with 700,000 being openly dumped.

Yet, if 1 in 10 people opted for refill once a week, 340 million plastic bottles could be saved per year, according to environmental NGO City to Sea.

Plastic bottle pollution is now once more in the spotlight after research conducted by marine conservation charity Surfers against Sewage (SAS) showed that at 16%, Coca-Cola bottles are the plastic items found most frequently on British beaches.

Environmental campaigners have urged drinks brands to take more responsibility for their end-of-life output. Re-fill models and general packaging reductions were touted as solutions to the plastic bottle crisis.

The UK government unveiled plans for a possible Deposit Return Scheme (DPS) for plastic bottles and cans in a second consultation on the matter in March 2021-actual implementation, however, will not commence until late 2024.

The scheme was originally conceived of six years ago as a way to tackle plastic pollution. The environmental policy came into being after years of environmental campaigning.

No decision has been made on the specific form of the scheme, with suggestions ranging from one that will only cover takeaway containers to an all-inclusive type covering plastic and glass bottles as well as aluminium drinks cans.

Bottle deposit schemes aim to incentivise recycling for consumers. As such, aluminium cans and plastic bottles are affixed with a small surcharge (anywhere from 8-30 pence) which is refunded to consumers when they return the respective containers for recycling.

The idea behind the scheme is to render plastic a valuable material, one likely to cost consumers money out of their pocket if they choose to forfeit their option to recycle. (One example for this would be the introduction of a 5p charge on plastic bags which led to a nationwide drop in plastic bag use by 85% as people ‘did not want to waste money’.)

With the UK’s recycling rate at 43,86% lagging behind the EU average, the intention is to boost said sluggish rate.

Norway, considered a world leader for successful return schemes, implemented its own deposit scheme in 1999, the country now having achieved a 98% recovery rate for PET plastic bottles.

In Australia, the New South Wales government managed to implement its own version of a container deposit scheme that complements existing curbside recycling programmes in December 2017. Three months after the start of the scheme, more than 150 million containers were returned and refunded.

Beverage companies are in support of a national deposit scheme, with a spokesperson from Coke claiming that the brand is similarly concerned over the correct recycling of its own plastic waste.

“All of our packaging is 100 per cent recyclable and our aim is to get more of it back so that it can be recycled and turned into new packaging again.”