Following the success of similar schemes around the world, the UK has announced that it will implement its own deposit-return scheme (DRS) on plastic bottles and aluminium cans. Michael Gove, the UK Environmental Secretary wants to implement the scheme as quickly as possible despite some reservations from the soft drinks industry.
Scotland have already started to implement a DRS that will aim to reduce the amount of plastic in the environment. The SNP are working with Coca Cola to get it up and running. Now, the rest of the UK is set to follow with the Welsh Government looking to push it entirely UK-wide.
Ever since the broadcast of the Blue Planet episode that highlighted the impacts of plastics discarded into seas, the UK Government has been pushed to address the problem of plastics in the environment. Microbeads have been banned from beauty and hygiene products, plastic bag purchases have drastically reduced and, in Scotland, plastic straws will very soon be banned completely.
Stats from the BBC (2018) highlight the extent of the plastic pollution problem in the UK. Each year, 13 billion plastic bottles are sold in the UK and less than 60% of them are recycled (7.5 billion). It is also estimated that 15 million plastic bottles are dropped as litter, put into landfill or incinerated each day. That’s an incredible amount of waste entering the environment daily and something that must be curbed quickly.
Similar schemes have been implemented in many European countries as well as some American and Australian states, and all have been realtively successful. In the months leading up to this announcement, momentum grew in favour of the scheme with Norway being identified as a scheme the UK can implement. But, what makes Norway’s scheme so great?
A DRS in Norway has been in place since 1999 and currently has a 94% recycling rate for soft drinks bottles that are recyclable. The scheme in Norway was implemented by industry after the Norwegian Government placed a tax on all unrecycled bottles, encouraging industry to take the lead and help recycling efforts in the country. The more bottles recycled, the lower the rate of tax on drinks manufacturers, and, if a company recycles 95% of the bottles sold, they don’t have to pay any tax at all.
How will it Work?
The implementation of schemes varies among countries, but there are a number of consistencies in how it has been implemented. The DRS will raise the cost of drinks when first bought, but consumers will be able to get a refund when they recycle the container at any recycling point that is set up, or even at the shop where they were first bought. At that point, consumers will receive the returned deposit which is yet to be decided.
The cost of implementing a scheme similar to one already in existence varies. The system in Germany is believed to have cost £600 million for set up and an annual cost of £700 million in maintenance. It sounds costly, but Germany argues that a lot of the annual maintenance costs are made up of deposits that are never collected.
We must Recycle Better
Whilst there are counter-arguments to the implementation of a bottle and can deposit-return scheme, there is no doubt that the rate of recycling must be improved. Too many plastic bottles are entering the environment and the impacts of that continuing would have very widespread consequences. The DRS that is being proposed in Britain would aim to have the same recycling rate as seen in places like Norway. It’s worked for plastic bags and microbeads, why not plastic bottles?
It’s worked for plastic bags and microbeads, so why not plastic bottles?