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Government proposes bottle deposit return scheme to help tackle waste pollution

Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, announced yesterday that a deposit return scheme to increase recycling rates and slash the amount of waste polluting our land and seas will be introduced subject to consultation later this year.

It is estimated that UK consumers go through 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, the government has confirmed 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. The consultation will look at the details of how such a scheme would work, alongside other measures to increase recycling rates.

Similar schemes already operate in countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Germany, which sees consumers pay an up-front deposit when they buy a drink, ranging from 8p in Sweden to 22p in Germany. This is then 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 you insert your plastic or glass bottle or can and the machine returns your money. Once a bottle is returned, businesses are then responsible for making sure they are effectively recycled – a move that has led to a 97 per cent recycling rate in Germany.

In his statement Gove said: 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. It is absolutely vital we act now to tackle this threat and curb the millions of plastic bottles a day that go unrecycled.

“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.”

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 consultation will take into account views from producers, suppliers and consumers to ensure that any system introduced works across the country. The consultation will sit alongside a package of wider reforms of the current packaging waste system, which will incentivise producers to take greater responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products and to increase the amount of packaging they recycle.

Steve Malkin, founder of the Planet Mark welcomes the Government’s plan to introduce a national plastic bottle and can deposit return scheme which he says sends all the right messages to people and business.

“For business, it offers the opportunity to think about designing better products that considers ‘end of life’ – giving unwanted plastic a new life.

“For those businesses embracing sustainability – and there are many – this is the shot in the arm that will encourage them to do more good work way beyond this scheme.

“For other businesses that haven’t seen this coming, it is a wake up call. We are in the middle of a revolution to cleaner living and those companies who are not performing and not contributing will suffer.”

Waste management company WCRS has also welcomed scheme. Robert Logan, Managing Director of WCRS, commented: “WCRS supports this initiative as attitudes towards waste are changing and an initiative like this will help to educate consumers of all ages in the importance of cutting waste and recycling,” 

“With the issue highlighted on the recent Blue Planet II television programme and with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch now thought to contain 79,000 tonnes of waste, the Government announcement has been well timed for maximum publicity, which can only be a good thing.” 

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.”

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