Deposits would harm established council recycling collections, says LARAC

Introducing a deposit-return scheme for plastic bottles in the UK would damage the efficiency of council collections and require a new collection infrastructure to be introduced, according to the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC).

Responding to the Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) inquiry into disposable packaging this month, LARAC says that councils have worked hard in recent years to provide increased opportunities for residents to recycle plastic bottles.

Deposits would harm established council recycling collections says LARAC
Support is growing for return schemes that see shoppers repaid when plastic bottles are recycled at retailers
Figures from the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) show that 97 per cent of UK households can recycle them through their council kerbside collection.

One of the main focal points of the EAC inquiry is plastic bottles and their impact on the environment. In the past few years both Scotland and Wales have considered deposits systems that add a charge to products in plastic bottles which is then recouped by the shopper when the bottle is returned to a retailer for recycling.

In recent months, however, the calls for a UK-wide DRS system have intensified, backed by campaigns run by Sky and the Daily Mail. The EAC call for evidence asks what initiatives could be utilised to reduce plastic bottle waste or lessen its impact, in particular looking at charges on the use of the products.

Reports in February suggested that Defra wasn’t considering a DRS, but the continued momentum of the campaign, including a U-turn from Coca-Cola GB on the possibility, has made the prospect of at least a trial seem more and more likely.

Critics like the On-Pack Recycling Label have previously said that a DRS would ‘cannibalise’ council collections and lead to an overall reduction in recycling.

LARAC admits that figures currently suggest that ‘in order to encourage a shift to more widespread use of reusable containers there will need to be a financial incentive for the individual’ it explicitly states that deposits would remove plastic bottles from council collection schemes, making them ‘less efficient’ and requiring a new collection infrastructure altogether.

Much of the support for the introduction of a DRS in the UK has pointed to the success of similar schemes in European countries like Germany, where a deposit system on glass, PET bottles and cans implemented in 2003 saw the reported rate if plastic bottle recycling increase to 99 per cent.

Making a direct comparison between the UK and these countries is difficult, says LARAC: ‘There are variety of different schemes across Europe that are linked to producer responsibility. It is not always easy to compare these as they have different circumstances and starting points to the UK as well as differing infrastructure and collection systems. They are also normally backed up with forms of direct charging on residents.’

More investment in existing recycling infrastructure preferable

Instead of a DRS, LARAC states that the UK is ‘better served by providing more funds for the existing council kerbside collection scheme for plastic bottles’.

At present, £250 million is spent by local authorities collecting packaging, and LARAC believes that the UK should look to build on this investment and enhance the collection infrastructure that is already in place to maximise the material collected.

Moreover, the organisation states that current producer responsibility legislation does not make producers of products like plastic bottles responsible enough for the design and recyclability of their products, and ‘does not mandate them to promote and support recycling collections and communications’.

Appropriate producer responsibility policies in the UK, it suggests, would encourage business to innovate and concentrate on the end of life of their products ‘instead of leaving it to the public sector to organise, manage and pay for’.

‘In order to enable this and embed appropriate producer responsibility’, the response reads, ‘LARAC believes there is value in removing targets from local authorities and placing them on producers, with local authorities having some sort of duty to cooperate to ensure they do remove themselves from the process.’

LARAC’s response to the EAC inquiry can be read on the LARAC website.

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