Defra puts ‘on-the-go DRS’ in consultation options

Consultations are being launched today (18 February) on household waste measures to implement core aspects of the Resources and Waste Strategy in England. Lasting for 12 weeks, they will cover Deposit Return Schemes; Extended Producer Responsibility; Consistency; and a tax on plastic packaging not having a 30% minimum recycled content.

The measures gained Cabinet approval last week and are now being consulted on by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and HM Treasury.

Key aspects of the consultations are:

(1) that two types of DRS will be considered. One option is for deposits to be placed only on ‘on-the-go bottles’, a measure which would cause less disruption to the kerbside collection system.

Michael Gove has hailed the consultations as ‘overhauling’ waste management in the UK

(2) On extended producer responsibility (primarily changing the current PRN system) there will be ‘full cost recovery’. Under this producers of packaging will have to pay 100% of the costs. Crucial to this will be the  link with local authorities and how the new scheme, probably through a central body, will be able to tell councils what part they will play in collecting packaging.

(3) A consultation on Consistency will look to see all councils collect the same materials with a graphic from Defra suggesting that aluminium foil, and small ‘fromage frais’ pots are likely to be the sort of the things the public want collected. Plus weekly food waste collections are proposed as are free garden waste collections (WRAP has calculated that if all local authorities collected garden waste for free this would contribute 4% to the recycling rate).

(4) the recycled content threshold tax would come into force in April 2022.

Circular economy

In a statement Defra said the consultations aimed “to overhaul the waste system, cut plastic pollution, and move towards a more circular economy”.

And Defra said that changes “will make up a key part of the government’s upcoming Environment Bill, to be introduced early in the second session of Parliament” – (the next Parliamentary year which starts this Spring).

The Department’s statement said: “As well as making businesses and manufacturers pay the full cost of recycling or disposing of their packaging waste, householders will see the existing complicated recycling system simplified. A consultation has launched today on a consistent set of recyclable materials collected from all households and businesses, and consistent labelling on packaging so consumers know what they can recycle.

‘Free garden waste’

“These will include separate weekly food waste collections for every household in England and could include free garden waste collections for households with gardens. Having comprehensive and frequent collections will ensure more reliable services for householders while retaining local flexibility.

Free green waste collections are being consulted upon (picture: NE Lincolnshire)

“The Government is also seeking views on introducing a Deposit Return Scheme for cans and bottles, subject to consultation, alongside setting out two potential models – ‘all-in’ or ‘on-the-go’. This could drive up the recycling of an estimated three billion plastic bottles which are currently incinerated, sent to landfill or left to pollute our streets, countryside and marine environment.”

‘End to confusion’

Environment secretary Michael Gove said: “Through our plans we will introduce a world-leading tax to boost recycled content in plastic packaging, make producers foot the bill for handling their packaging waste, and end the confusion over household recycling. We are committed to cementing our place as a world leader in resource efficiency, so we can be the first generation to leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, said: “Plastic packaging makes up two-thirds of all the plastic waste that pollutes this country and wreaks havoc on our environment. It’s our responsibility to do something about it and that’s why we will introduce a new tax on the producers of plastic packaging that don’t use enough recycled material.

“This action, coupled with the other measures we are bringing in, will help drive up recycling, cut the amount of new plastic being used and protect our environment for future generations.”


To help drive up household recycling levels, Defra said that a consistent set of recyclable materials for collection in England, will be introduced, “no matter which part of the country people live in”. Costs of managing packaging waste will be funded by industry through a packaging Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system. This will see industry pay higher fees if their packaging is harder to reuse or recycle and will encourage sustainable design, subject to the consultation launched today. EPR for packaging will raise between £800 million and £1 billion a year for recycling and disposal.

(Last year, the PRN system is understood to have contributed about £175 million towards packaging recycling and recovery).

The consultation sets out options for how this will work in practice and which widely-recyclable material should be included, such as plastic bottles and plastic pots, tubs and trays, glass packaging (bottles and jars), paper and card, and metal packaging.


In launching the consultation, a DRS is proposed that could operate for cans, and plastic and glass bottles. Defra states: “Government will seek views on two options for how the DRS could work if introduced.

Defra uses an image of an RVM Systems reverse vending machine in its consultation material

“The first option, known as the ‘all-in’ model, would target a large amount of drinks beverages placed on the market, irrespective of size.

“The second option, known as the ‘on-the-go’ model, would restrict the drinks containers in-scope to those less than 750ml in size and sold in single format containers. This model would target drinks most often sold for consumption outside of the home (while ‘on-the–go’). This could drive up the recycling of an estimated three billion plastic bottles which are currently incinerated, sent to landfill or left to pollute streets, countryside and the marine environment.”

And Defra claims that similar schemes already operate successfully in other countries – for example, total return rates of drinks containers in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden are at 90%, 92%, 98%, 92% and 85% respectively [data awaiting missing figure from Defra].

Defra has produced a video for consumers detailing the proposed DRS system


Defra states that currently, packaging producers pay only around 10% of the cost of dealing with packaging waste. “By increasing that to cover the full amount, government will incentivise producers to think carefully about using less packaging, and to switch to using packaging that is easier to recycle.”

Following the overhaul of the packaging regulations, the government says it will explore extended producer responsibility schemes for items that can be harder or costly to recycle. “As well as improving existing schemes for cars, electrical goods and batteries, this could include things such as textiles, fishing gear, vehicle tyres, certain materials from construction and demolition, and bulky waste such as mattresses, furniture and carpets.”


Defra notes that “the Government’s call for evidence on single-use plastic waste last year highlighted that recycled plastic is often more expensive than new plastic, despite its lower environmental impacts. The Government is now seeking views on proposals for how the tax will work. For example, which packaging should be in scope of the tax, how to assess recycled content, and which businesses will be liable for the tax. The Government is open to views on the best design options.

Introducing a Deposit Return Scheme
Packaging waste: changing the UK producer responsibility system for packaging waste
Waste and recycling: making recycling collections consistent in England
Plastic packaging tax

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