Caroline Lucas joins calls for bottle return scheme

Caroline Lucas MP, Co-Leader of the Green Party, has tabled an early day motion calling for the introduction of a bottle deposit return scheme (DRS) as part of the National Litter Strategy.

Lucas joins other voices calling for a DRS, saying they are used in 11 other European countries with recycling rates for target materials in excess of 90 per cent. The motion also notes that plastic bottle and cans account for 40 per cent of litter in the UK, with a staggering 38.5 million plastic bottles being used every day. The National Litter Strategy is the first of its kind and will see the government working with local authorities, campaign groups, and businesses to clean up England.

The proposed DRS would see customers pay a small cash deposit of around 10 pence when they purchase a drink in a can or bottle, which they then get back upon return of the packaging for recycling.

Lucas’s motion cites the success of five-pence single-use carrier bag charge in reducing the distribution of plastic bags by six billion as reason to reintroduce a type of scheme that was commonplace in Britain before the 1980s. She says she hopes that it would increase the collection of plastic bottles and protect the environment while saving public money.

Opposition from plastics sector

The motion has not been positively received by the plastic sector, however. In response to the proposal, the British Plastics Federation (BPF) released the following statement: ‘The early day motion by Caroline Lucas MP may not fully consider the impacts of introducing a deposit return scheme (DRS) or current research on litter composition. Bottles account for only 2.5 per cent of littered items in England (Keep Britain Tidy Litter Composition Survey of England, 2014). The evidence from other countries indicates that DRSs are very expensive to introduce, have a high cost for local councils, and can cause inconvenience for consumers. In Germany, the cost of collection per item through the DRS is three times as high as a kerbside system (INCPEN Factsheet Packaging & Deposits).

‘The introduction of such a system is likely to undermine the existing kerbside collection operated by local councils as well as penalise consumers who already recycle at home. The industry would welcome the opportunity to discuss recycling and litter with politicians, and encourages the involvement of relevant stakeholders in discussions of legislative proposals.’

Growing calls for DRS scheme in UK

Caroline Lucas’s early day motion is the latest in a string of calls over the last year to introduce a DRS in the UK, despite this opposition.

In June 2015, Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s Environment Secretary, called for a UK-wide DRS to be introduced in a meeting with then Environment Secretary Liz Truss. His call followed a study by the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland that claimed nearly 80 per cent of the Scottish Public would support such a system to reduce litter and boost recycling.

Further to this, the Welsh Assembly debated the possibility of introducing a DRS in Wales in December last year, while in March the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) called for the introduction of a DRS after a record amount of litter was found on UK beaches last year. A report by the MCS showed that the number of plastic bottles found on beaches had increased by over 43 per cent between 2014 and 2015.

As with Lucas’s motion, these various calls have been met with fierce opposition from the packaging industry, though. Packaging Recycling Group Scotland (PRGS) said that the initial Scottish Government proposal “fails on nearly every practical level and ignores current consumer behavior”, with others within the industry calling it “pointless” and “expensive”.

Jane Bickerstaffe, Director of the Industry Council for research on Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN), also opposes the introduction of a DRS in the UK, saying in that they only work in certain circumstances. She argued in February this year that a deposit scheme “would be expensive and inconvenient for consumers, undermine local authorities’ recycling services, and disadvantage small shopkeepers”.

Bickerstaffe added: “We believe that the right way forward is to build on and strengthen existing recycling and anti-litter initiatives. Our members are enthusiastic about engaging constructively with all stakeholders in Scotland on the best ways to achieve the shared objective of boosting recycling, including pointing out the negative unintended consequences of deposit schemes.”

Going further back, writing in Resource in 2013, Bickerstaffe raised the issue of whether the scheme would actually increase recycling, stating: “Putting a deposit on drinks containers would just divert them from the council’s kerbside collection system into a separate collection system. Given the widespread availability of kerbside and bring systems for recycling, it seems unlikely that deposits would increase recycling.”

Find out more about Scotland’s work on DRSs and further arguments for and against deposit-return systems.

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