Environment Secretary Michael Gove has confirmed today (28 March) that the government will introduce some form of deposit return system (DRS) for single use drinks containers. A deposit scheme could cover plastic and glass bottles, as well as cans.
However, the precise scope of the scheme remains unclear: it will be subject to consultation and would fit in with other policies, Mr Gove said in a Sky TV interview last night. It also appears that the deposit scheme is likely to focus on ‘away from home’ measures.
In a statement today, Defra said: “UK consumers go through an estimated 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year, but more than three billion are incinerated, sent to landfill or left to pollute our streets, countryside and marine environment.
“To tackle this blight, the government has confirmed it will introduce a deposit return scheme in England for single use drinks containers (whether plastic, glass or metal), subject to consultation later this year. The consultation will look at the details of how such a scheme would work, alongside other measures to increase recycling rates. We hope to talk to the devolved administrations about the scope for working together on this important issue.”
Today’s details from the Secretary of State follow the overnight publication of an important study by the Cabinet Office – the Voluntary & Economic Incentives Working Group Report – which found that “More work needs to be done to assess the implications and impacts of a DRS before one is introduced” and that “the costs of implementing a DRS, and the benefits that could outweigh them, will very much depend on the exact DRS model that is developed and the outcomes that it is seeking to achieve”.
And, the report recognises the need to make sure the scheme ties in with existing programmes and recognises the work of local authorities. Importantly, the Incentives report said that “Our view is that reforming current packaging waste legislation to introduce extended producer responsibility principles has the potential to meet similar outcomes as a deposit return scheme, in terms of increasing collection and recycling of drinks containers, depending on how that legislation is designed. For example, funds raised from producer obligation fees could be used to provide wider investment in waste material collection and recycling as well as help fund activities to reduce littering.”
Mr Gove, who is expected to clarify his thinking and Defra’s exact stance during at an event at the Natural History Museum (today Wednesday 28 March) is under enormous media pressure to set up a DRS scheme from the national media. Sky TV, BBC and the Daily Mail are among three media outlets claiming that their campaigns on plastics, have lead to the Secretary of State backing for a DRS scheme. But, Mr Gove on Sky TV appeared more cautious than the media appear to imply today.
He is also under pressure from environment groups, notably the Campaign to Protect Rural England which sees bottles and cans as a major litter problem, “killing wildlife”. The CPRE was the first to “congratulate” the government on what it saw as confirmation that there would be a DRS scheme.
CPRE said it would help boost recycling rates and “combat the plague of litter blighting our countryside” claiming that “This is a watershed moment for recycling in the UK, given that similar systems around the world produce extremely high results.”
The CPRE has campaigned for the introduction of a DRS for 10 years and also provided secretariat services to Defra on the issue.
A mixed reaction is expected from the recycling sector with some feeling that litter is more than just bottles and cans and that flytipping is also a major concern. There are complications too in the relationship with household collections with the likelihood that cans and a large number of bottles are lost from local authority schemes to DRS bottle and can collectors.
And, there are already proposals to beef up the PRN packaging waste system which could help improve recycling rates for drinks containers – the current systems is said to already help to ensure that about 70% of drinks bottles are recycled.
Samantha Harding, litter programme director at CPRE said: “This is a brilliant and significant decision by Michael Gove. I am thrilled that we will finally see the many benefits a deposit system will bring to England, not least the absence of ugly drinks containers in our beautiful countryside.
“What’s significant is that producers will now pay the full costs of their packaging, reducing the burden on the taxpayer and setting a strong precedent for other schemes where the polluter pays. This really is a bold and exciting step by the Government.”
Bill Bryson, author and former CPRE president commented: “Future generations will look back on this decision as a piece of supremely enlightened policymaking, and one that raises the prospect of the world’s most beautiful country becoming free from drinks container litter at last. My most profound gratitude goes to the tireless campaigners and heroic litter pickers of CPRE who, for the past decade, have kept the issue alive in the minds of our politicians, press and public.”
In Norway, a deposit of 1 Krone (approximately 10p) for small plastic bottles and 2.5 Krone for larger bottles is paid by the consumer when purchasing a re-usable plastic bottle. This is then taken to a vending machine where it is refunded. Machines can be found at larger retailers where ‘tickets’ are issues which can be cashed in at the till for either credits or cash. Smaller retailers can arrange a manual collection (see letsrecycle.com story).
Norway was one of the DRS systems flagged up by a Defra representative at last year’s RWM event.
Waste management company Suez UK is to publish research findings today that the public would return drinks bottles if a deposit was imposed. Suez is thought to favour a deposit on away from home drinks containers.