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Deposit return – the past becomes the future

Deposit return – the past becomes the future

Littered drinks containers are everywhere, so we need to do everything we can to capture them. Many households and businesses do their bit to recycle but large quantities of containers still end up in landfill, or – worse - lying bright, ugly and poisonous across our countryside, coastlines, roads, parks and rivers.

So, how can we tackle the problem?

Here at CPRE, 10 years of research and campaigning into the reduction of littered bottles and cans has pointed us in one direction – to a deposit return system. We are now thrilled to see this become a reality with the Government’s decision to introduce a nationwide deposit return system for plastic and glass bottles, as well as aluminium cans. Support for a UK scheme has grown tremendously in recent years, from the public, the media and other environmental organisations, so this is a momentous occasion for all of us.

How did we get to this?

We’ve had many milestones throughout our 10 year campaign, from celebrity ambassadors to seeing huge turnarounds from major industry players, such as Coca Cola. And we’re so very grateful for all the backing we’ve received from our supporters along the way and the willingness of the public to tackle the plastic tide that has been sweeping the nation – we couldn’t have got here without you! Take a look at some of our steps through the years:

Deposit return systems

How does it work? The scheme is simple: when you buy a drink, you pay a small deposit (10-20p) and then when you return the container to one of the hundreds of return points, you get your deposit back. Many other countries and provinces around the world have found a deposit return system to be the best way to capture drinks containers, and you may recall a similar initiative for glass bottles in England some years back.

Does it work?

Thanks to the monetary incentive, such schemes wield an unrivalled return rate of between 70-98.5%, with an associated reduction in other container litter of up to 80%.

Plus, we’ve already seen what a relatively small economic incentive can do here in England – the 5p charge on plastic bags has led to an 80%+ drop in usage since it came into effect in 2015. So, we have high hopes for a similarly positive impact with the introduction of a deposit system for drinks containers.

Further benefits

Over the past 10 years we have explored the costs and benefits of deposit return systems in depth.  Our research, alongside evidence from around the world, shows that it is the most effective way to capture cans and bottles to turn them into other cans and bottles. This leads to a huge reduction in these containers being littered in the countryside and elsewhere, but there are other benefits to consider...

Our research showed that a UK-wide deposit system would create up to 4,000 new jobs in the recycling industry and our 2017 research shows that the introduction of a UK scheme could save local councils £35million per year, as it reduces their burden of having to deal with so much of our waste.

It’s also worth noting that the introduction of a deposit scheme in England would come at zero cost to you as a taxpayer – the system would pay for itself.

Support for deposit return systems

The success of deposit return systems in boosting recycling and reducing litter overseas has not gone unnoticed and we’ve seen support for a UK scheme grow enormously over the past 12 months:

  • Suez UK – part of a major global waste giant– came out in favour of a deposit return system, saying that it would be a ‘win win’ for the environment and the economy.
  • Many retailers are behind the scheme, from the largest – Tesco – to those on our high streets - Iceland and the Co-op – to the smallest – including the National Federation of Retail Newsagents.
  • One of the core recommendations in Sky PLC’s #OceanRescue campaign is a UK-wide deposit return system for plastic bottles.
  • Other NGOs have got behind the idea in recent years and are helping to push it forward, such as Greenpeace and Keep Britain Tidy.
  • The Scottish Government have announced plans for a national system and development is under way.
  • A petition hosted by Surfers Against Sewage and 38 Degrees was delivered to No.10 with over 250,000 signatures
  • The Government’s Environmental Audit Committee’s recent inquiry into drinks containers and coffee cups highlighted the urgent need for a UK DRS and a similar economic incentive for coffee cups.

The opposition

Traditionally, the major opponent of deposit return was the beverage industry. However, Coca-Cola announced last year that it would support a well-designed system in Scotland – a huge step forward. We hope they harness similar support for the scheme in England.

This change of position has exposed that really the only opponents of DRS left are packaging companies, their trade associations and some companies that are well-paid to manage business-level recycling schemes. This is understandable, as of course they don’t want to lose income, but there’s no reason why the environment should pay to keep their profits up.

The ‘polluter pays’

Currently, litter costs us nearly a billion pounds every year to clear up – using money from the pockets of the taxpayer. But a deposit return system would ensure that the cost of dealing with drinks containers is met by those who produce them and those who litter them, using what’s known as the ‘polluter pays’ principle. The scheme is paid for by the producers of the containers and those who don’t dispose of them properly – in other words, if the container is thrown away, the deposit is unclaimed, so it stays within the system and helps to fund it.

What’s next?

The full details of the English scheme are yet to be determined, so we will be focusing our efforts on a system that will work best for the UK as a whole. We want a deposit system that:

  • Applies to all bottles and cans – glass, plastic and aluminium – with any new products being automatically covered
  • Has as many return points as possible
  • Works alongside the Scottish scheme (announced last year)
  • Is mandatory

The journey isn’t over yet, but for now let’s celebrate this huge step towards a litter-free countryside.

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