Alupro issues Scottish DRS warning

Large plastic drinks bottles
Alupro survey reveals 83 per cent of people are concerned a DRS could increase the consumption of plastic
According to a new study by the Aluminium Packaging Recycling Organisation (Alupro), Scotland’s proposed deposit return scheme (DRS) could result in 823 million more plastic bottles entering the market, inadvertently adding to plastic pollution.

Earlier this year, Zero Waste Scotland estimated that the ‘all-in’ DRS, which is set to come into play in April 2021 and will see a redeemable deposit placed on all plastic, glass and metal beverage containers between 50 millimetres and three litres in size, will result in almost 31,000 fewer plastic bottles being littered in Scotland each day – adding up to more than 11 million each year.

However, Alupro, which aims to maximise the amount of aluminium packaging being recycled in the UK, is warning that attaching the same deposit fee to all sizes of container (of all materials) will lead consumers to opt for larger plastic bottles, adding more single-use plastic to the country’s waste stream.

Alupro carried out a survey asking 2,000 UK residents to imagine there was a 20-pence deposit on every can or bottle of any size, as proposed in Scotland’s ‘all-in’ DRS outline. Including a 20-pence deposit on all individual containers would mean consumers pay an upfront deposit of £4.80 on top of the purchase price of a 24-can multipack, compared with a deposit of 80 pence for four large plastic bottles containing the same amount of liquid.

Two thirds of people surveyed said they would be likely to switch to the plastic bottles to save money. Even if the deposit was 10 pence, 51 per cent said they would still be likely to choose the plastic bottles over the multipack of cans.

The survey revealed that one in five people (19 per cent) would still end up using their recycling bin at home, rather than taking the container back to a retailer or a reverse vending machine (RVM). Difficulties getting to a collection point regularly would leave consumers perpetually out of pocket, which would hit those on low incomes hardest.

“A variable deposit fee based on the size of the container avoids changing current consumer purchasing habits”

Scotland’s plan for a DRS is one of a range of measures the Scottish Government is implementing as part of its new Circular Economy Bill, alongside the introduction of a single-use coffee cup charge, the trial of reusable cup rental schemes, and the use of social marketing measures to ‘shift the paradigm’ so that unsustainable consumption becomes socially unacceptable and sustainable consumption becomes the social norm.

Following in Scotland’s footsteps, the UK Government has recently signalled that it favours employing an ‘all-in’ DRS across the rest of the UK.

Commenting, Rick Hindley, Alupro’s Executive Director, said: “The majority of consumers buy multipacks, and these will become twice as expensive as the equivalent volume in plastic if a deposit return scheme is introduced with the same deposit fee. This would be a significant upfront cost for household budgets and, as our survey has confirmed, it will influence purchasing habits.

“However, a variable deposit fee based on the size of the container avoids changing current consumer purchasing habits. Consumers are sophisticated enough to understand a variable deposit fee as is the norm in Scandinavian countries where deposit return schemes are well established.

“We urge the Scottish Government and UK Government to consider the impact of other schemes; the German drink can market is only just starting to recover following the introduction of a poorly designed deposit scheme in 2003 that all but wiped out can sales, which plummeted by 96 per cent almost overnight. 

“Our survey found 83 per cent of people are concerned that a deposit return scheme could increase the consumption of plastic. We must avoid this scenario playing out in the UK.”

Read more: DRS: A whole can of worms

The aluminium industry is not alone in its concerns, with glass manufacturers expressing fear that the inclusion of glass bottles in the DRS will cause disruption to the glass industry, claiming that increased costs will reduce demand for glass containers.

Local authorities have also expressed concern over the impact of a DRS on kerbside recycling, suggesting it could undermine the preexisting system, diverting material away from local authorities and reducing the revenue they can collect from the sale of recovered materials. Lee Marshall, CEO of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), warned in October 2017 that a DRS could likely lead to “savings on the litter picking side, but increased costs on the kerbside”.

There have been calls for the implementation of an ‘on-the-go’ scheme, where deposits are placed on items purchased for consumption out of the house, such as individual drinks bottles, rather than an ‘all-in’ scheme. This would exclude multi-pack cans from the charge altogether.

Commenting on Alupro’s survey results, Maurice Golden MSP, Shadow Climate Change, Environment, Land Reform Secretary, said: “We want to see an ambitious and inclusive system that works well across the whole of the UK. It is concerning that a flat deposit fee could lead to a dramatic increase in the amount of plastic being purchased and a decline in the use of aluminium.

“We must ensure that the deposit return scheme is well designed and does not discriminate against one material over another.”

Related Articles