Deposit Scheme for plastics and glass

Plastics – should we return to glass?

The Marine Conservation Society is delighted at the announcement made by Environmental Secretary Michael Gove today, that a scheme for deposit returns on plastic and glass bottles and metal cans is to be introduced in England. The charity says the move will lead to a big reduction in waste when it comes into place.

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.

The deposit system plans are subject to a consultation, Defra says, and MCS agrees that this will need to work with other mechanisms to stop the plastic tide, such as potential taxes and charges to reduce waste from single-use plastics. The government says:

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.

Similar schemes already operate in countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Germany. A deposit-return scheme sees consumers pay an up-front deposit when they buy a drink, ranging from 8p in Sweden to 22p in Germany, which is redeemed on return of the empty drink container. Possible variants of a deposit-return scheme include cash rewards for returning drinks containers without an upfront deposit.

This is often done through a network of ‘reverse vending machines’, where you insert your plastic or glass bottle or can and the machine returns your money. Once a bottle is returned, businesses are then responsible for making sure they are effectively recycled – a move that has led to a 97% recycling rate in Germany. The 5p plastic bag charge has also led to 9 billion fewer bags distributed.

Carrier bag on beach – Marine Conservation Society image

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:

We can be in no doubt that plastic is wreaking havoc on our marine environment – killing dolphins, choking turtles and degrading our most precious habitats. It is absolutely vital we act now to tackle this threat and curb the millions of plastic bottles a day that go unrecycled.

We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use, and now we want to take action on plastic bottles to help clean up our oceans.

Author Bill Bryson, a former president of Campaign to Protect Rural England, said:

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.

Dr. Sue Kinsey, MCS Senior Pollution Policy Officer, says: “Deposit refund systems for bottles and cans have been proven to work in around 40 countries around the world. We are confident that this scheme will help reduce the amount of litter on our coasts and in our seas and increase high-quality recycling. UK consumers use 13 billion plastic bottles each year, and an average of 72 beverage containers per 100m of beach in England were found in our Great British Beach Clean survey in 2017. This is a win-win situation for consumers, taxpayers and the environment alike”.

The Marine Conservation Society has campaigned for many years for deposit refund systems to be introduced, having found plastic drinks bottles, along with caps, lids, cans and glass bottles and other plastic on-the-go drink and food waste items, consistently featuring in the top ten of litter types strewn on UK beaches. Together these items account for up to 20% of all rubbish found in Marine Conservation Society beach cleans and surveys spanning almost 25 years.

Cleaner beaches, please!

Last December, MCS launched a campaign to #stoptheplastictide advocating for deposit return schemes and for the introduction of substantial levies on single-use (throwaway) plastic items. According to Luca Bonaccorsi, Director of Engagement and Communications: “This is a massive step forward in the fight against plastic pollution. Together with the introduction of charges on senseless throwaway plastic that we are expecting to be included in the October Budget round, this decision is likely to make a real difference”.

Since September 2016, over 10,000 drinks bottles and cans littered all over the UK’s rural, urban and coastal landscapes have been reported to MCS by members of the public on its #wildbottlesightings webpage. 73% of the British public, questioned in a YouGov poll for MCS in 2017, support the introduction of deposit return systems (DRS) across the UK for single-use drinks bottles (plastic and glass) and cans.

MCS’s appeal to tackle the rising problem of plastic in our seas is at www.mcsuk.org/stop-the-plastic-tide.

A local solution which has spread and spread

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