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Coca-Cola U-turn gives Scottish deposit campaign boost

The growing campaign to introduce a deposit-return scheme (DRS) for bottles in the UK has gained more momentum after the British arm of beverage giant Coca-Cola announced its support for a Scottish trial of a DRS after years of opposition.

Coca-Cola U-turn gives Scottish deposit campaign boost
The idea of a DRS in Scotland, where consumers would pay an extra few pence for a bottle and get it back when they returned the packaging to a retailer for recycling, has been developing for a number of years, but has reached a sticking point, in part because of the effect it might have on manufacturer and retailer costs and the implications for small stores.

Despite its familiarity with similar schemes in other nations, Coca-Cola GB has always opposed the suggestion of a Scottish DRS, telling a consultation carried out by Zero Waste Scotland in 2015 that ‘it is unambitious, too narrowly focused and poses significant unintended risks to our business and to Scotland’s wider recycling performance’.

Because of its involvement in other schemes across Europe, the company added that it was ‘not against deposit-return schemes per se… However, they’re equally not comparable systems to what we have in Scotland’.

However, speaking at a Holyrood magazine event in Edinburgh on Tuesday, representatives of Coca-Cola said that the time is now right to trial ‘new interventions such as a well-designed deposit scheme for drinks containers, starting in Scotland where conversations are under way’.

This morning, a spokesperson for Coca-Cola GB explained that a survey of consumers had found that 63 per cent support the introduction of a DRS in the UK, and 51 per cent said that they would be more likely to recycle as a result.

The spokesperson added: “We’ve made significant progress to improve the sustainability of our packaging in recent years… We believe that we can go further. That’s why we have embarked on a major review of our sustainable packaging strategy to understand what role we can play in unlocking the full potential of a circular economy in Great Britain.

“Since the start of the year, we have been consulting with expert organisations, NGOs and policymakers. We are focused on our packaging, the role of our brands and the ways we can collaborate with others to improve recycling rates and reduce litter.

“From our experience elsewhere in Europe, we know that deposit schemes can work if they are developed as part of an overall strategy on the circular economy, in collaboration with all industry stakeholders. We are open to exploring any well-thought-through initiative that has the potential to increase recycling and reduce litter.”

Growing momentum

In recent months, the clamour for a DRS in the UK has grown, with Green Co-Leader Caroline Lucas tabling an early-day motion in Parliament that a bottle DRS should be introduced in the UK and Prince Charles backing a deposit system, with support from Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign and even the Daily Mail.

Opposition has come from the packaging industry and organisations representing local authorities, however, suggesting that such a system could cause damage to council kerbside recycling services, and have subsequent negative effects on investment in plastics recycling. Indeed, Coca-Cola itself said in its 2015 consultation response that ‘two separate studies found that local authorities may lose out from a DRS’, suggesting instead that improving ‘fractured’ household collections would be a better way to increase recycling.

However, companies have been criticised for lobbying against the introduction of a DRS, with Greenpeace singling out Coca-Cola for its petitioning of the Scottish Government to drop the idea of a DRS.

Last week, reports suggested that the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) were ‘unlikely’ to consider a DRS for the UK as a whole, but devolved plans in Scotland are still ongoing.

Now, with this change of heart from Coca-Cola, the world’s largest manufacturer of soft drinks and drinks packaging, the momentum behind a DRS has picked up considerably, and campaigners have been quick to point out the significance of the drinks giant’s backing.

‘Landmark moment’

The ‘Have You Got the Bottle?’ campaign, comprising 33 organisations from business, non-governmental and community sectors and led by the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS), supports a deposit scheme and a poll carried out by the campaign in 2015 found that 78 per cent of Scots supported a DRS.

Responding to the Coca-Cola news, APRS Director John Mayhew said: “This is truly a landmark moment, and we are very pleased to add Coca-Cola to the list of companies which agree that Scotland needs a deposit-return system for drinks containers.

“The momentum is now with the campaign, and I am optimistic that Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham will in due course announce that Scotland will join the growing community of countries around the world which use deposits to boost recycling, cut litter and promote the circular economy.

“The crucial next step is for ministers to design a system that works well for the public, for local authorities, and for small Scottish businesses, including retailers as well as producers. We know it can be done, and we will continue to argue for a deposit system which takes account of their needs.”

Calum Duncan, Head of Conservation Scotland for the Marine Conservation Society, which found last year that the number of plastic drink bottles littered on beaches had risen by 43 per cent between 2014 and 2015, added: “The international evidence is clear: a deposit-return system for drinks containers is the easiest next step we could take to reduce plastics in the marine environment. It’s great to see Coca-Cola recognise the advantages for them and for society more generally, and we welcome their support for this campaign.

“We know that deposit-return won’t tackle all litter, but we also know that it works exceptionally well around the world for drinks containers. With Coca-Cola on board, the debate changes completely, and we are ready to work with them and Scottish ministers to ensure the approach we take is best for Scotland.”

DRS ‘won’t help litter’

INCPEN (the Industry Council for research on Packaging & the Environment) has been one of the main sources of opposition for a DRS in Scotland and the UK, arguing that just because such schemes have worked well in other parts of the world doesn’t mean it is the best option for the UK.

Earlier this year, the organisation, which counts Coca-Cola as a member, released a study carried out by litter charity Keep Scotland Beautiful suggesting that found that adding deposit charges to packaging would not have significant benefits to littering, and that behaviour change campaigns would address the problem more thoroughly.

The organisation adds that collecting drinks containers from one place and take them to the same destination where kerbside collection lorries take other recyclables would add vehicles to the roads, increasing transport emissions.

More about the arguments for and against DRSs can be found in comment pieces from Resource 71.

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