Glass within a UK deposit return scheme 'counterproductive'

Tim Gent, Managing Director of glass recycling company Recresco, on why the inclusion of glass in a UK-wide deposit return scheme should be 'vehemently avoided’.

Tim Gent Recresco Deposit return scheme glassThe introduction of a proposed Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) in the UK, certainly continues to be a highly controversial subject. Following lengthy disputes between multiple stakeholders and differing proposed approaches to the scheme across the nations of the UK, it now looks like it will be another two years at least before any DRS is introduced.

Scotland was hoping to lead the way with its scheme which was due to commence in Summer 2023. Concerns and disagreements about the planned scheme led to it being postponed until March 2024 and now it seems there is no plan to commence the Scottish DRS before October 2025 at the earliest.

DRS proposals have been plagued with problems from the outset with glass being one of the major points of contention. Whilst initial plans were to include glass in an all-in DRS, the government has now opted to exclude glass from the schemes in England and Northern Ireland, saying that including it would be too complex. Scotland is also under mounting pressure to align with England and Northern Ireland by excluding glass if and when its scheme does finally launch.

Glass will instead be covered under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) which targets manufacturers with recycling targets. EPR has already proved highly successful for glass recycling in Belgium, The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Closer to home, Wales boasts the third highest household recycling rate in the world, with an impressive capture rate of 87.3 per cent through kerbside collections.

Industry welcomes exclusion of glass from deposit return scheme

The decision to exclude glass is obviously welcome news for the glass sector. The industry has long since voiced its concerns over proposals for an all-in system. Glass is one the most highly recyclable packaging materials available and already boasts an impressive recycling rate which hit 75.8 per cent in 2020, clearly illustrating that there is already a robust and reliable system in place through kerbside collection.

So strong is the feeling within the glass industry that British Glass CEO, Dave Dalton, wrote an open letter to the government in 2021 arguing the case for glass to be kept out of the DRS. The decision to now exclude glass shows there is merit in this concern.

Furthermore, there is extensive evidence from around the world that clearly shows glass' inclusion in a DRS has the potential to be counterproductive with a possible risk that it may even incentivise the use of single-use plastic packaging. Single-use plastics are one of the most serious environmental issues governments are trying to address, so any activity that drives more use should be vehemently avoided.

Further complications around the DRS arose earlier this year when retailers entered the discussion, pushing the government to reverse DRS through a letter to Scotland’s first minister Humza Yousaf due to the excessive projected costs involved. With The British Retail Consortium (BRC) estimating DRS costs to be around £1.8 billion per year on top of required and significant infrastructure costs, there is real concern amongst the major supermarkets that the whole scheme is not fit for purpose. 

And when drinks manufacturers and retailers withdrew support of Circularity Scotland Limited (CSL) – who were appointed by the Scottish Government in 2021 to administer the introduction of Scotland's DRS – stating they did not have the confidence to continue funding the project, it was surely a turning point.

Now The BRC and major supermarket chains have asked that plans for DRS be scrapped altogether in light of the real potential for costs of the system to be passed onto consumers in an already challenging economic environment. This surely represents a pivotal moment in the whole process as support for DRS collapses.

From the beginning of the conversation to the latest news, plans for DRS have been plagued with problems that show no sign of alleviating. With the new suggested date of 2025 looking like it will be further pushed back, the likelihood of a UK DRS looks uncertain at best. Whatever the end result, the point remains that glass does not belong in DRS and thankfully this is one part of the discussion that more and more stakeholders seem to agree on.

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