Plastic bottle deposit scheme to be introduced by government

  • Video report by ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi

Consumers could face paying a deposit on drinks bottles and cans which is repaid when they hand them in for recycling, under Government plans to tackle plastic waste.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove confirmed ministers would introduce a deposit return scheme for single use drinks containers such as plastic and glass bottles, and aluminium cans in England, subject to consultation.

The move aims to boost recycling rates and cut litter, and comes amid increasing concern over the issue of single use plastic waste, much of which ends up as rubbish polluting the countryside and oceans.

  • Why is a bottle deposit scheme needed?

UK consumers use an estimated 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year, more than three billion of which are incinerated, sent to landfill or end up as litter in towns, the countryside and the seas.

Plastic waste has created the Great Pacific Garbage Patch - an artificial island of plastic material twice the size of France - in the North Pacific Ocean.

It is thought to contain 79,000 tonnes of floating waste.

  • How would it work?

A poll for waste and recycling company Suez found that 74% of people would be likely to return their plastic drinks bottles or cans if they had to pay a 10p deposit, which they could then reclaim when they returned them for recycling.

Suez has called for a deposit return scheme which only targets plastic bottles and aluminium cans that are smaller than 700ml, such as soft drinks cans and bottles of water bought to be drunk on the go.

But before any schemes are launched, a consultation will first be launched which will look into whether a bottle deposit scheme could work in England, alongside other measures to increase recycling rates, which have stalled in recent years.

Options for a scheme could include providing cash rewards for returning bottles and cans without an upfront deposit, through "reverse vending machines" where consumers insert the container and get coins in return.

The Government has said it would only take forward options from the consultation which demonstrate they offer clear benefits, are resistant to fraud, and where the costs to businesses, consumers and the taxpayer are "proportionate".

While the consultation will be launched in England, officials have said they wanted to talk to the devolved administrations about the scope for working together on the issue.

Supermarket Iceland has approached the Government with an offer to trial reverse vending machines - where consumers insert their empty bottle or can and receive a payment in return - in its shops.

The retailer has also pledged to remove all plastic packaging from its own brands by 2023.

Current council recycling collection schemes could become 'unworkable' when new scheme is introduced. Credit: ITV News

The facts:

  • 13 billion plastic bottles used per year in the UK

  • More than 3 billion are not recycled

  • A typical household uses 480 plastic bottles per year

  • Food and drink containers account for 20% of rubbish on beaches

  • In Germany a 22p deposit is paid on plastic bottles and 97% are returned for recycling

  • Sweden charges a 17p deposit on plastic bottles and cans with 85% of those being returned

  • In Estonia a 9p deposit is charged for nearly all drinks containers and 90% are returned

Bottle recycling rates in Germany are at 90%. Credit: PA
  • Do other countries do anything similar?

Around 40 countries already have versions of the system, which typically charges an upfront deposit on plastic or glass bottles or aluminium cans that is refunded when consumers return the drinks container for recycling.

The costs in different countries vary wildly, from around 6p in Australia, to 22p in Germany, where recycling rates are more than 90%.

Some countries have reverse vending machines which allow consumers to insert their empty bottle or can and receive a payment in return.

  • What has the Government said?

"We can be in no doubt that plastic is wreaking havoc on our marine environment - killing dolphins, choking turtles and degrading our most precious habitats," the Environment Secretary said.

Michael Gove continued: "It is absolutely vital we act now to tackle this threat and curb the millions of plastic bottles a day that go unrecycled.

"We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use, and now we want to take action on plastic bottles to help clean up our oceans."

  • What have campaigners said?

UK consumers use an estimated 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year, but more than three billion are incinerated, sent to landfill or end up as litter in towns, the countryside and the seas, officials said. Credit: PA

Responding to the announcement by Mr Gove, the Campaign to Protect Rural England's (CPRE) litter programme director Samantha Harding described it as a "brilliant and significant decision".

"I am thrilled that we will finally see the many benefits a deposit scheme will bring to England, not least the absence of ugly drinks containers in our beautiful countryside."

And author Bill Bryson, a former president of CPRE, said: "Future generations will look back on this decision as a piece of supremely enlightened policymaking, and one that raises the prospect of the world's most beautiful country becoming free from drinks container litter at last."

Bill Bryson hailed the Government's announcement as 'enlightened policymaking'. Credit: PA

However, not all campaign groups have responded so positively.

Elena Polisano, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said it was "positive" the Government's proposals included plastic and glass bottles and metal.

"If the system is UK-wide, applicable to drinks containers of all sizes and available everywhere they are sold, it will make a huge difference to the plastic problem.

"The Government must also be careful to avoid a voluntary scheme that only applies to some retailers.

"Both the public and businesses are in favour of a strong deposit return scheme, which is a tried and tested way to increase recycling rates," she said.

Charity A Plastic Planet, which champions plastic-free supermarket aisles, said while the move was a "great milestone", it was not the ultimate solution to the plastics crisis.

Co-founder Sian Sutherland said even if plastic bottles are reused or recycled, they will "almost always" end up in the environment sooner or later, and most plastic can only be recycled several times before it becomes unusable.

"Instead we have to turn off the plastic tap. This means eliminating plastic bottles at the earliest opportunity," she urged.

And she said: "Glass bottles and aluminium cans are already widely recycled, unlike mostplastics.

"This means a higher deposit should be required for plastic bottles than aluminium and glass alternatives."

Many countries already have a bottle deposit scheme. Credit: PA

Meanwhile, environmental think tank the Green Alliance has called for a deposit scheme to be introduced for all drinks containers to be a success.

They continued that it "will be important to make sure markets are established here in the UK for this greater quantity of recycled material or it will be shipped abroad, from where it could still end up in the sea."

Town halls said a consultation on a deposit return scheme, alongside other efforts to boost stalled recycling rates in England, could "revolutionise how we recycle".

But it should not hit council recycling schemes, taking valuable materials out of kerbside collections, the Local Government Association (LGA) said.

Martin Tett, LGA environment spokesman, urged industry to use the consultation on a deposit scheme to get round the table to reduce the amount of unrecyclable material in packaging.

And he said: "With various pressures affecting kerbside recycling, from China's recent decision to not take waste from this country to funding pressures affecting all of local government, this consultation is an opportunity to renew our relationship with recycling and ensure kerbside collections are put on a firm financial footing."