Ministers meet to discuss UK-wide deposit return scheme

Ministers from the UK, Welsh and Scottish Governments, as well as officials from Northern Ireland, met on Friday (6 July) to discuss plans for a collective deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers that would operate all nations of the UK.

Plans for a DRS have been gaining momentum in recent months, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove announcing that England would see a DRS introduced later this year – although this was later revised to 2020 – after Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had committed to a DRS in Scotland back in September 2017. The Welsh Government has also suggested that it would explore the introduction of a DRS in Wales.

A DRS sees consumers pay a small fee when buying a product, which can later be redeemed upon the return of that product for recycling. While the exact designs of any DRS for Scotland and England are currently subject to consultation, they would target drinks containers made from plastic and possibly also those made of glass and metal.

 Ministers meet to discuss UK-wide deposit return scheme
UK Resources Minister Thérèse Coffey (first left), Welsh Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn (second left) and Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham (second right) at the summit.

The UK currently uses around 13 billion single-use plastic bottles a year, three billion of which end up being incinerated, sent to landfill or littered, finding their way into the countryside and the marine environment, while the recycling rate for plastic bottles has plateaued at 57 per cent for the past five years.

While the devolved administrations are looking at introducing separate DRS, critics have stated that any DRS would need to be UK-wide to avoid issues such as fraud: containers could be brought across the border between Wales and England, for example, and have their deposits redeemed in England without having paid them in the first place. A system that is consistent across the entire UK has been suggested as a way to mitigate against such issues and provide consistency, clearing up confusion for consumers.

As such, ministers charged with the environment portfolio in their respective administrations met on Friday to discuss a UK-wide DRS – except Northern Ireland, which sent representatives but is currently without a government following the breakdown of the power-sharing arrangement in January 2017.

In attendance were UK Resources Minister Thérèse Coffey, Welsh Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn and Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, who all expressed support for a UK-wide system and agreed to work together on a scheme’s design and operation.

Speaking before the meeting, Thérèse Coffey said: “We are leading the way in reducing plastic pollution to protect our planet, with a clear commitment to introduce a deposit return scheme subject to consultation.

“This summit is an excellent opportunity to deliver a coordinated approach with our colleagues in the devolved administrations who share our ambition to improve recycling and tackle the problem of plastics in our environment.”

Following the summit, Hannah Blythyn added: “We know about the impact single-use drinks containers are having on our environment, often blighting our countryside or ending up in our seas.

“I welcome working with the other UK nations on a UK-wide deposit return scheme. There appears to be a collective appetite for a scheme from all UK nations, so this would be the most practical and effective way to implement a scheme.

“We are considering a number of solutions to reducing the impact of single-use plastics on our environment in Wales. Any scheme we introduce must be the best for Wales and work alongside our existing policies, which have made us first in the UK and third in the world for household recycling.”

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