The UK government has proposed a bottle and can deposit return scheme (DRS) which aims to cut down the levels of plastic waste in the country.
Plastic, glass, steel and aluminium drinks containers will be covered by the proposed scheme, which will increase the price of drinks, though consumers will have money returned to them if they recycle the containers at designated sites using ‘reverse vending machines’.
Once consumers have deposited the containers, retailers who store the ‘vending machines’ are responsible for properly recycling the materials.
The details of the DRS are yet to be finalised, but a similar deposit scheme operated by the German government imposes a cost of €0.25 for single-use plastic bottles. The scheme will be subject to a consultation later this year.
The UK’s environment secretary, Michael Gove, said: “We can be in no doubt that plastic is wreaking havoc on our marine environment.
“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.
“We need to see a change in attitudes and behaviour. And the evidence shows that reward and return schemes are a powerful agent of change.”
The scheme is designed to encourage consumers to recycle more: research from Euromonitor suggests that 1,000,000 plastic drinks bottle are bought worldwide every minute, yet only half is recycled and just 7% is made into new bottles.
DRS schemes that have been introduced in countries like Germany have massively increased recycling levels, and there have been calls to introduce a DRS scheme from organisations such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) for the last decade.
The scheme has been active in Germany since 2003 and has led to a 99% recycling rate for plastic bottles, with returning points in most supermarkets.
But it has proven costly too. The German system costs almost €800 million a year to operate, and The British Plastics Federation has estimated that it would cost £1 billion to launch a similar scheme in the UK and another £1 billion every year to operate.
It adds further pressure on the country’s beverage industry at a time when it’s preparing to adopt a sugar tax, which will already increase the price of soft drinks.
CPRE’s litter programme director, Samantha Harding, added: “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.”
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