The plastic bottle deposit scheme: helping boost recycling and cut waste

Mar 29, 2018


By Kate Brown


The government announced a new deposit scheme in England to help reduce waste and boost recycling of plastic bottles and cans. This comes about after the popular Blue Planet II series highlighted the significant threat of ocean pollution and released footage of wildlife eating plastic.

Currently UK consumers use around 13 billion plastic bottles per year, yet more than 3 billion are not recycled. Michael Gove, Environment Secretary, said that there was no doubt that plastic was “wreaking havoc” and “we need to see a change in attitude and behaviour. And the evidence shows that reward and return schemes are a powerful agent of change”.

The scheme will involve consumers paying a deposit when buying drinks in bottles and cans. It is expected that the scheme will cover materials such as single-use glass and plastic bottles as well as steel and aluminium cans. Whilst full details including how much of a deposit people will be expected to pay are yet to be released, similar initiatives elsewhere range from 8p in Sweden to 22p in Germany. The deposit will increase the price consumers pay for such drinks, however people can get their money back if they return the container.

Globally, around 40 countries (including Germany, Sweden, Israel and some US states) adopt a similar deposit return scheme for plastic bottles. Whilst the schemes take different forms, most involve returning bottles to an automated collection point or to the shop where they purchased the drink from in order to be given the refund. Scotland has already announced plans for a deposit return scheme, ministers in Wales want to help administer a UK wide system, and Northern Ireland will consider the approach as part of a review later this year.

In 2015 we saw the plastic bag charge introduced, whereby all retailers with 250 or more employees were required to charge at least 5p for plastic carrier bags. Michael Gove said the 5p levy put on plastic bags proves how effectively the UK can respond to these initiatives, as consumption of single-use carrier bags has reduced by 83%.

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