Concerns over the potential impacts of a deposit return system (DRS) in the UK emerged at the Resources and Waste Strategy Unwrapped conference in London yesterday (13 February).
Sentiment from some in the audience and on a panel were that while they were not against DRS per se, there was a danger that the system could be introduced too quickly in light of other changes to producer responsibility coming into play. Other concerns were that it could have a negative impact on local authority recycling and that there could be ‘unintended consequences’.
An afternoon session at the event, saw a presentation on DRS and discussion by a panel from across the supply chain. Explaining the idea of the DRS and how it might work, Nick Brown, head of sustainability at Coca-Cola European Partners, which covers Great Britain (not Northern Ireland) spoke positively of the DRS idea.
Mr Brown stated that among other things, a “well designed” DRS will be consistent, efficient and ensure that all stakeholders work together.
He said that Coca-Cola feels only plastic bottles and aluminium cans should be covered, as glass adds to the “costing complexity” and difficulties in rolling out the system and also warned against only targeting on-the-go material.
Addressing fears that a DRS could extract valuable material from kerbside collections for local authorities, Mr Brown said that a well-designed DRS could be an opportunity for councils too.
“Local authorities have done a great job over the last 15 years putting together these household schemes, and we want to make sure that any DRS is designed in a way that continues that collaboration,” he explained.
Mr Brown added: “The funding stream that sometimes comes from the collection of some of the more valuable materials, that’s going to move. However, there should be opportunities for local authorities as well, either in running collection points, or does it fundamentally change the economics of litter collection if local authorities can actually redeem the deposit values of the packaging they collect?”
Following on from Mr Brown, panellists discussed how they felt a DRS will fit in with Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation and the wider UK market.
Adam Read, director of external affairs at Suez, added that he felt a DRS should target ‘on-the-go’ material which generally covers plastic bottles and aluminium cans.
He added that he is concerned that a consultation on a DRS is coming at a similar time to that on EPR, and said the latter should be addressed first before thinking about a DRS.
Beverley Simonsen, local authority support manager at Resource London, also raised the point that local authorities could suffer a loss of income under a DRS system, and this needs to be taken into account.
“If you start skimming off all of the high-value material, and left with the low-value material it will really impact them and also the contracts they have. We don’t want to impact household collections. I think it needs to focus on on-the-go without penalising small corner shops.”
Other panellists including Debra Huntington, senior policy advisor at British Glass, who said that glass should not be included and instead, the investment should be focused on improving kerbside collection of the material, “which is already doing a good job, but could be improved”.
When put to the audience, concerns were aired over consumers switching to glass instead to avoid the extra cost, and also questions about how multi-packs will be influenced.
While not 100% clear, on what route a DRS would take, Mr Brown stated that while it is an issue, it highlights why on-the-go isn’t ideal as it hasn’t been trialled elsewhere and would add to the cost.
For material switching, he said while we need to be careful, there are some limits as materials such as cartons “can’t be used for carbonated beverages and glass is generally used in the licensed trade.”
Others stated that the investment in kerbside collection in recent years could be put to waste, and stated that few of the countries who have a scheme have an equally as extensive kerbside collection.
Others audience members raised concerns that while the industry discusses what materials should be included, one said: “this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get it right.”
Rick Hindley from Alupro said that research has suggested that a DRS could simply shift material from one collection system to another, adding that evidence has suggested that cans will be hitting high targets without the needs for a DRS.
The entire panel, however, was in agreement that any system will have to be consistent across the UK, with concerns over fraud and consumer confusion, particularly as Scotland have been further ahead in introducing the legislation.
This included James Bull, head of packaging at Tesco, who agreed that it is important to capture on-the-go material, but said this needs to be “clear” to consumers and the entire system needs to be straightforward or people “will simply disengage”.
Peter Clayson, general manager of DS Smith also stated that his company is involved in DRS returns in Croatia and is therefore aware of some of the unintended consequences such as fraud. He also said that the consequences of EPR legislation will need to tie in with DRS to ensure producers don’t pay twice.
The Resources and Strategy Unwrapped conference was held at the Congress Centre, London, and organised by Environment Media Group, the parent company of letsrecycle.com. The session was chaired by Jacob Hayler of the Environmental Services Association.