The importance of effective deposit return scheme design

Martin Hyde, sustainability and public affairs manager at Alupro, discusses why a well-designed deposit return scheme (DRS) is essential for improving recycling rates and explains what decisions need to be made to ensure maximum impact.

Deposit return scheme Alupro Martin HydeIn September, insight leaked that the already delayed start date for the roll-out of the UK’s deposit return scheme is looking even more unlikely, with 2026 now emerging as the earliest likely alternative. But, as frustrations continue to build across the supply chain and calls for a rethink of proposals increase, we can’t lose sight of the need to design a system that will deliver optimum impact once implemented.

Developed with the ambition of further driving recycling rates, as well as reducing litter, the implementation of a well-designed DRS provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionise the circular economy of drink containers. As such, as an industry, we should be welcoming the potential to embrace the circular packaging economy and increase recycling rates. After all, DRS implementation has the opportunity to drive significant change.

Maximising the impact of the deposit return scheme

The possible impact of a highly functioning DRS shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s a significant overhaul of policy, industry and recycling behaviour that will affect the entire packaging supply chain, as well as environmental groups and perhaps most importantly, consumers. Yet, if we fail to embrace best practice and consider the implications of a poorly designed scheme, we run the risk of making the change without cause, resulting in minimal benefits and unnecessary cost.

We, therefore, believe that the following four pillars, as outlined within our pioneering Aluminium Manifesto (March 2022), are instrumental to achieving maximum impact:

  • Securing a variable rate of deposit – Best practice suggests that a good DRS should embrace a variable rate deposit, supported by a maximum deposit level that allows flexibility. A variable rate of deposit is critical to prevent an imbalance in the market for beverage containers sold in multipacks. It’s also promising that a new scheme being launched in Ireland in 2024 has embraced a variable rate of deposit which, if adopted in Northern Ireland too, would deliver cross-border alignment and make the scheme easier for consumer participation.
  • A circular economy for materials involved in the scheme – It’s vital that the DRS is seen as a circular economy scheme, not an anti-litter one. It is essential that collected material is accessible and available to the recyclers of aluminium packaging, as it is now. This means that, once collected, the scheme can facilitate the supply of new recycling aluminium cans. The recycling industry is looking to the UK, as the largest market for cans in Europe, to lead the way in this respect and to demonstrate its commitment to its environmental aspirations.
  • A fair and level playing field with targets across reforms – Ensuring that where beverage containers are not in the scope of DRS, they meet equal collection and recycling targets under the new, albeit delayed, EPR system at the same pace as those which are included. This also requires the inclusion of beverage containers not obligated under DRS within the list of ‘bin litter’ under EPR.
  • Recognising the role of consumer education – The government and the Deposit Management Organisation (DMO) should work closely with organisations such as Every Can Counts (ECC) to ensure that consumers can be educated of the changes on the horizon, giving enough time to prepare. ECC has significant experience driving beverage can recycling through consumer engagement.

Deposit return scheme Alupro aluminiumWhile the process we’re currently going through has been thwarted by delays and change, we should not focus entirely on the negatives. Despite frustrations, the introduction of the scheme, regardless of when it’s rolled out, should be seen as a positive and – as an industry – we need to work hard to maximise its long-term impact.

Ensuring legislation is robust and delivers the maximum possible impact is pivotal. As we move forward, the government must listen to the feedback offered by the supply chain and take it on board to create a dependable system. It is also imperative that any DRS is designed in a way that it can be easily introduced alongside equivalent legislation such as the government’s ongoing work on Extended Producer Responsibility.

To achieve an effective DRS, we need to work collaboratively. Doing so is essential if we are to roll out a scheme that improves recycling rates and reduces litter, while also creating a system that works and sets the international standards for success.

Find out more about Alupro through our website or Aluminium Manifesto.

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