7 June 2021 by James Langley

Councils call for deferral of DRS

The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) has called for the introduction of the deposit return scheme (DRS) for England, Wales and Northern Ireland to be deferred.

The government’s consultation on a DRS closed on 4 June (see letsrecycle.com story ). In its response, LARAC said it wanted the DRS deferred until after policies on extended producer responsibility (EPR) and consistency had “had a chance to work”.

A DRS aims to incentivise consumers to return packaging for a financial reward

The DRS is to be introduced in late 2024 at the earliest, while the first phase of reforms to EPR and proposals contained within the much-delayed consistency consultation could be rolled out from October 2023.

LARAC said a deferral would allow for “proper research” into a digital DRS, as well as into the full impacts the Covid-19 pandemic might have on the operation of a DRS.

Carole Taylor, LARAC chair, said: “The case for deferring a DRS is stronger now than it has even been. The consistency and EPR proposals are saying they will improve material quality and so a DRS using digital technology and kerbside collections makes perfect sense.

“Further trials and research need to be done so we can see how a digital DRS system can be made to work. A DRS based on reverse vending machines is costly and is mostly just displacing existing recycling from efficient kerbside systems to an expensive network of reverse vending machines that would have been redundant during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

LARAC represents local authority recycling officers and those working in similar or related posts.

Kerbside collections

If local authorities are to be paid for DRS materials collected at the kerbside as proposed in the consultation, LARAC says its members stated a preference for a system based on compositional analysis rather than trying to redeem deposits themselves. The latter option was viewed as “unwieldy and largely unworkable”.

Carole Taylor is LARAC chair

If a DRS was to go ahead in 2024 using reverse vending machines, then LARAC would want to see an ‘on-the-go’ scheme implemented.

An on-the-go model would restrict the drinks containers in scope to those less than 750ml in size and sold in single format containers.

LARAC believes this model would have more of an impact on litter and be less disruptive to the current kerbside collections. In a poll of LARAC members an on-the-go model was the second most favoured option, after deferral of the DRS.

On-the-go

Meanwhile, in its own response to the government’s consultation on the DRS, released on 4 June, the Local Government Association (LGA) said it also supported an on-the-go model.

The LGA is a politically led, cross-party membership organisation, representing councils from England and Wales.

It believes an all-in DRS would be inconvenient for people living in smaller houses and flats, increase the price of items “when many families are struggling to put food on the table”, penalise car-free households and increase transport on “the already busy and polluting roads”.

In a statement it said: “If government decides to implement an all-in scheme some material will inevitably leak into the kerbside collection systems.

“Where this happens, councils must be compensated for their full net costs as would be the case if the materials were in scope of EPR.”

Digital DRS

The LGA said it “understood and appreciated” why government was keen to consider a digital DRS but appeared wary of such a scheme.

Research is underway into how a digital DRS involving an app, such as the one developed by Polytag shown above, might work

Society is not equal when it comes to digitisation, the LGA said. Sections of society do not have access to the technology required for a digital DRS, the organisation claimed, and therefore it would not be accessible to all.

It is also wary of issues relating to data protection, including who holds data and its intended use.

The LGA does not “generally” agree with permitted development rights for reverse vending machines. The organisation claims they strip councils of control of their local area and can cause significant environmental issues such as surface water flooding. It would prefer for the deposit management organisation (DMO) to fund planning posts that could work with local authorities to develop supplementary planning guidance for reverse vending machines.

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