UK government confirms plans for drinks containers deposit scheme

A new cash incentive system, placing deposits on drinks bottles and cans, will boost recycling from 2025.

Recycling plastic bottles and drink cans is set to be easier for tens of millions of people thanks to a new deposit return scheme, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow announced last week.

New plans set out in a consultation response detail that, through small cash deposits placed on single-use drinks containers, people will likely be incentivised to recycle their drinks bottles and cans, reducing litter and plastic pollution.

The scheme would include special machines, known as reverse vending machines, and designated sites where people can return their bottles and receive their cash back. In most cases it would be the retailers who sell drinks covered by the scheme who would host a return point.

The new scheme, covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is set to be introduced in 2025, following extensive work with industry to prepare for the necessary changes – including setting up infrastructure and amending labelling. It aims to ensure 85% fewer drinks containers are discarded as litter after three years of its launch.

In the meantime, the Scottish government has gone ahead with its own version of the scheme, which is due to begin in August this year and will include glass, plastic and cans. The public will pay a 20p deposit when they buy a drink that comes in a single-use container made of PET plastic, steel and aluminium, or glass. They will get their money back when they return the empty container to one of tens of thousands of return points.

Why has it been implemented?
Rebecca Pow said: “We want to support people who want to do the right thing to help stop damaging plastics polluting our green spaces or floating in our oceans and rivers.” This will provide a simple and effective system across the country that helps people reduce litter and recycle more easily, even when on the move.”

Controversy has emerged as glass bottles – a material that greatly damages the environment – are not included in the scheme in England and Northern Ireland, yet will feature in Wales and Scotland.

Criticisms of the exclusion of glass came from The Recycling Association, it also had several criticisms including that the implementation of a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) will complicate the roll out of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and consistency of collections.

Chief executive Simon Ellin said: “For households, we could potentially end up with two systems and that complicates matters. We will see people taking bottles and cans to DRS return points to get the deposit, when digital technology could mean they could scan the packaging and then put it in their household recycling bins. Indeed, there will be a greater carbon impact from people driving to put their containers in reverse vending machines. Instead, it is more efficient and better for the environment for these bottles to be collected from the kerbside.

“DRS seems like a backward step that adds another layer of complexity to the system and not much more. EPR and consistency of collections have the potential to transform the way we recycle in the UK, but DRS doesn’t fit naturally into that.

“Using digital technology within EPR to give households deposits for returning their cans, plastics bottles and glass bottles has to be the way forward. Defra has said it will look at digital in the future, but once the huge investment has taken place in reverse vending machines, digital will never happen.

“The trials in Wales of digital technology are very encouraging. Let’s give this time to see if it works better than DRS, because if it does, it fits more nicely with EPR and consistency and has a better carbon footprint. It is 2023, let’s use digital technology to improve our collections rather than introducing a DRS scheme that will make it almost impossible to implement.”

Photo: A woman wearing disposable gloves uses the Envipco bottle recycling machine at a local supermarket in West Linn, Oregon, USA.

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