The pair have become the first supermarkets to back DRS, a mechanism which sees consumers pay a small deposit for plastic and glass bottles, which can be refunded upon return to a shop.

Both came forward after being asked their thoughts in a survey by Greenpeace. Iceland has offered to host a DRS reverse vending machine within some of its stores for the Government to trial. The firm is now calling on fellow retailers to follow suit.

“Introducing a DRS may well add to our costs of doing business,” Iceland Foods director for sustainability Richard Walker said.

“However, we believe it is a small price to pay for the long term sustainability of this planet. I urge all other retailers to do the right thing and follow suit.”

DRS is seen by campaigners as an effective tool to significantly reduce littering and increase recycling of bottles. Campaigners are concerned particularly about the build-up of plastic waste in oceans – some estimates warn there could be more plastic [by weight] than fish in the sea by 2050.

Co-op retail chief executive Jo Whitfield said the firm is in favour of creating a DRS which “increases the overall recycling of packaging and significantly reduces litter and, importantly, helps tackle marine pollution”.

“We look forward to working with others, including government, local authorities, manufacturers and other retailers, to help design a scheme that delivers in all these areas,” she added.

Carrot or stick?

Greenpeace said that other major supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Lidl, Aldi and Morrisons were either non-committal or expressed reservations about the scheme.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that trade bodies representing brands such as Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Coca-Cola have lobbied the Government to oppose DRS and new EU proposals designed to boost recycling.

Defra is currently consulting businesses on how DRS could work in England, after it was confirmed that Scotland would introduce its own scheme earlier this year.

Similar projects have been heralded a success in Scandinavian countries such as Norway, where recycling rates of containers are now above 95%.

Even bottlers are starting to warm to the idea. Drinks giant Coca-Cola has announced it supports testing a deposit return service for drinks cans and bottles, after previously claiming that it did not reduce packaging use or improve recyclability.

The Government has also launched a consultation on how a tax system of charges could reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste created by containers such as packaging and polystyrene takeaway boxes.

While the initial reaction to that announcement has been broadly positive, some experts have outlined scepticism about the effectiveness of taxation as a way to drive behaviour change on waste.

George Ogleby

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