Government launches consultations on Deposit Return Scheme and Extended Producer Responsibility

MPs have today introduced new consultations to create the largest ever overhaul to the waste and resources sector, recommending that manufacturers cover the full costs of recycling packaging waste, standardising domestic and commercial waste collection and introducing a Deposit Return Scheme for certain types of packaging in 2024.

Government launches consultations on Deposit Return Scheme and Extended Producer Responsibility

The Government also promised to explore the introduction of consistent recycling collections for households and businesses across England

The Government has today (25 March) confirmed a 10-week consultation on proposed reforms to how the UK handles and treats its waste and resources through the Environment Bill, which has suffered numerous delays as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The new consultation aims to enshrine some of the key mechanisms outlined in the Resources & Strategy, which places stricter requirements on businesses in relation to their packaging. First unveiled back in 2018, the Resources & Waste Strategy set out a long-term blueprint for waste prevention, reuse and recycling in the UK.

The strategy set out plans for manufacturers to pay the full costs of handling their packaging once it was placed onto the market, through the Extended Producer Responsibility system up from 10% at the time. With approximately 11.7 million tonnes of packaging placed onto the UK market in 2019, the Government is also proposing higher levies for materials deemed harder to recycle or reuse.

The Government also promised to explore the introduction of consistent recycling collections for households and businesses across England, which will also be going out to consultation shortly.

Back when the strategy was first unveiled it also promised to consult on the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme to increase the recycling of single-use drinks containers including bottles and cans. Reports emerged this week that a national rollout of this system – which has boosted recycling rates of those items in some countries to more than 90% – could be pushed back a year to 2024. The Government has not confirmed a timeframe for the system, but the scheme would cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with Scotland planning an individual scheme.

The Government confirms that 2024 is the recommended year for the rollout of the initiative.

“We have had to reassess what a realistic timeline for implementation of a deposit return scheme looks like, ensuring that sufficient time is given for a successful rollout of the scheme,” the consultation notes.

“We, therefore, anticipate that the introduction of a deposit return scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would be in late 2024 at the earliest. We believe this revision presents a realistic yet equally ambitious timeline to implement a complex but incredibly important policy in the most effective way possible.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Through our world-leading Environment Bill we are transforming the way we deal with waste. Tackling plastic pollution lies at the heart of our efforts, and we have already taken steps to ban microbeads, cut supermarket sales of single-use plastic bags by 95% and prohibit the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds.  

“These new changes will further ensure that more of what we consume is recycled and reused. They will stimulate the creation of alternatives to single-use plastics and establish consistent rules to help people recycle more easily across the country.” 

Delays not welcome

The delays to the Deposit Return Scheme – largely driven by the pandemic – are a worrying issue for green groups. UK consumers purchase and discard an estimated 14 billion plastic drinks bottles, nine billion cans and five billion glass bottles annually.

According to Planet Patrol – which recently wrote the foreword for edie’s new single-use plastics report – in 2020, a quarter of all litter recorded on its app by the public were plastic bottles, metal drinks cans and glass bottles, all of which could be collected through the Deposit Return Scheme.

Planet Patrol’s founder, Lizzie Carr, warns that a delay to the scheme could damage national efforts to embrace the circular economy.

“The Deposit Return Scheme offers a real solution to increasing recycling rates and reducing litter levels, highlighted by the high recycling rates of countries such as Germany (as high as 97% recycling rate) who have used a deposit return scheme since 2003,” Carr said. “As Planet Patrol’s data shows, implementing a Deposit Return Scheme for bottles and cans alone could lead to eliminating a quarter of all litter in the UK. Expanding the scheme to cover more ‘on-the-go’ food and drink containers, as identified in Planet Patrol’s research, could cut litter by nearly half.”

Friends of the Earth is another group calling for clarity on the implementation of the scheme. The organisation’s plastics campaigner Camilla Zerr said: “A comprehensive deposit return scheme is needed to boost recycling, cut waste and help stem the relentless flow of discarded plastic bottles that blight our environment and threaten our wildlife.

“However, some of these proposals are far too weak. We need an ‘all in’ scheme that includes bottles, cans and cartons of every size and every material. Ministers must stand up to industry lobbying because delaying the scheme until 2024 will create even more unnecessary waste and pollution.”

Friends of the Earth is also calling for legally binding targets to reduce plastic waste to be included in the Environment Bill. 

Waste management firm Biffa also welcomes the introduction of the scheme, but notes the need for it to be readily accessible when it is introduce.

Biffa’s head of environment and external affairs Jeff Rhodes said: “It is critical the Government listens to us and I welcome the consultations launched today. At Biffa we have valuable expertise, we are a leading UK company when it comes to sustainable waste management, surplus produce redistribution and plastic recycling.

“Our expertise can help Government achieve its ambitions of eliminating avoidable waste by 2050, achieving a 65% recycling rate and for all plastic packaging to be recyclable by 2025.”

Another waste management firm, SUEZ, also notes the importance of consumers making informed choices on purchasing packaging that can be easily recycled, a decision that could be made easier if businesses have to front the full cost of their packaging.

SUEZ’s chief executive John Scanlon said: “These keenly awaited consultations will be critical to transforming our approach to the way we make, consume and dispose of products and their packaging, moving us along the road to a more circular economy and our 2050 net-zero ambition.

“The reforms will bring about the biggest change to our sector in well over a decade. Their success is contingent on individuals and organisations from across the value chain coming together to meet the collective challenge of helping government shape the fine detail of its reforms to extended producer responsibility and the design of a complimentary deposit return scheme.

“Investment in new collection systems and treatment facilities alone cannot achieve the step change needed to reduce waste and increase recycling, people also need to be empowered to make sustainable choices at the checkout, whether online or in store, and to be able to recycle easily be that at home, at work or on the go.”

Matt Mace

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