The environment: A focus on deposit return schemes to increase recycling

deposit return schemes
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Rebecca Pow, MP, states the case for real change when it comes to the environment, including introducing deposit return schemes to increase recycling and clamp down on litter

I’m sure we have all been moved by pictures of plastic waste floating in our oceans, threatening our marine wildlife. It is truly awful to see footage of a turtle entangled in a discarded plastic bag or sea birds perching on drifting flotsam and jetsam of plastic bottles and packaging.

The need for real change is clear, and a key commitment of this government is to leave the environment in a better state than when we inherited it.

Environment Bill

Leaving the European Union presents the UK with a huge opportunity to go above and beyond the commitments and laws that we are party to for environmental protection. Our landmark Environment Bill, currently passing through Parliament, will see us go further than ever before in committing both this government and future governments to environmental protection and enhancement.

Resources and waste will play a huge role in this Bill as well as our work going forward to create a cleaner and greener future. The legislation will require at least one legally-binding target to be set on resource efficiency and waste reduction, and also includes new powers to introduce more accountability for producers; to create simpler and more consistent measures for household recycling; to prohibit or restrict the export of waste – including polluting plastic waste – to non-OECD countries; and to introduce deposit return schemes to increase recycling and clamp down on litter.

Deposit return schemes

In simple terms, deposit return schemes work by levying a small deposit on the purchase price of a container product which can be returned after use. Typically, these are bottles or cans. Upon returning your container to a machine in a local shop or supermarket, you get your deposit back as cash or a coupon.

These schemes have been very successful in parts of Europe, with Finland, Germany and Norway achieving 92%, 98% and 92% return rates respectively. In the UK, we have found that financial incentives can significantly change consumer behaviour, notably through our 5p plastic bag charge, which has reduced usage by a remarkable 90% in major supermarkets and taken over 15 billion bags out of circulation since 2015.

Consumers in the UK go through an estimated 14 billion plastic drinks bottles, nine billion drinks cans and five billion glass bottles a year. Whenever you see piles of litter or overflowing bins, you invariably see many plastic bottles and drinks cans amongst them.

There is no single policy that can eradicate littering, but in combination with tougher fines, new powers for councils and effective awareness-raising campaigns, a deposit return scheme can really turn the tide in our battle against litter. More importantly, a deposit return scheme will help us achieve our 65% recycling target by 2035. Specifically for plastic bottles, we want to collect 77% (by weight) by 2025 and 90% by 2029.

It’s important that we introduce a deposit return scheme that works well for both consumers and businesses, and in 2019 we held a public consultation to get a broad idea of how such a scheme could operate and what types of containers we could target. Businesses need to obtain the right type of material to reuse, so it is crucial that any proposed scheme works.

We have subsequently committed to introducing a deposit return scheme for England from 2023, and once our Environment Bill is enshrined into law this year, we can consult with businesses, industry, consumers and campaigners on drawing up a detailed and effective scheme which will boost our recycling rates and stem the amount of plastic threatening our natural environments and wildlife. We will also continue to work closely with our counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Deposit return schemes are a proven way to help achieve a cleaner and more efficient waste industry, and in the UK they will help us to go further and faster to reduce, reuse and recycle more of our resources. Deposit return schemes are an important tool in helping us to leave a greener and cleaner planet for generations to come.

Contributor Profile

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
Phone: +44 (0)20 7238 6951
Website: Visit Website
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