Bottle deposit scheme could catalyse a two-third reduction in plastic marine litter

A deposit scheme for plastic drink containers could reduce one third of UK plastic seeping into the oceans, with four extra actions able to reduce plastic marine litter even further, new analysis from the Green Alliance thinktank has revealed.

Following Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s pledge to tackle plastic marine litter last month, the Green Alliance suggests that the single most effective action to catalysing progress would be to introduce a deposit return scheme on plastic bottles.

Plastic bottles account for around 33% of global marine plastic litter, and the Green Alliance claims that placing a small charge between 5-20p on drink containers at the point of sale, which can then be redeemed if the package is returned to the seller or an authorised centre, would “virtually eliminate beverage litter”.

Green Alliance’s acting policy director Dustin Benton said: “It’s depressing to visit a beach that is covered with plastic, and downright scary to learn that the seafood you are eating might be contaminated by plastic pollution.

“The popularity of the microbeads ban and plastic bag charge shows the public is up for tackling these problems. The government should listen, introduce a bottle deposit scheme, and enforce rules on sources of industrial waste. These simple steps would address two thirds of the UK’s marine plastic problem.”

Deposit discussions

England’s plastic bag usage has declined by 83% since the Government introduced a 5p levy on single-use bags in retail outlets. Gove’s pledge to ban microbeads from rinse-off products by the end of this year was welcomed as a “step forward”, but the Green Alliance claim it will tackle less than 1% of plastic marine waste.

With global bottle production set to jump by 20% by 2021, the Green Alliance joins a growing list of campaigners calling for a deposit scheme. The potential of a deposit scheme is built on studies in Europe which show that the levy could increase recycling rates of the bottles to 98%, and has already shown relative success in Germany. In comparison, the UK’s rates are flatlining at 57%.

Deposit schemes were discussed in-depth at a London Assembly Environment Committee earlier this year, while Coca-Cola announced its support for testing a deposit return service for drinks cans and bottles.

According to the Green Alliance, implementation of the deposit scheme would reduce plastic waste by one third, although other measures could be utilised to double the reduction. Enforcing an international, industry led Clean Sweep programme targeting plastic pellets or “nurdles” used as raw material in industrial processes could reduce 9% of plastic pollution.

Other measures, such as expanding the microbead ban to all products, enforcing maritime waste dumping bans currently used by Norway and upgrading wastewater treatment plants with sand filters to retain fibre shed from synthetic clothes would help bring total reductions to around 66%.

Greenpeace has previously condemned the “woeful lack of action” by the soft drinks industry to prevent ocean plastic pollution, as figures show the world’s top six brands use a combined average of just 6.6% recycled plastic in their bottles.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie