All in or on-the-go?: Green economy reacts to Defra's deposit return scheme vision

The consultation on the UK's waste management process has sparked new debates on standardised waste collections and the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regime. But the green economy wants to go "all in" on deposit return systems.

The government is exploring two variants of the deposit return system

The government is exploring two variants of the deposit return system

On Monday morning (18 February) the UK Government announced plans to drastically modify waste management systems through a new consultation. A key aspect of the consultation is the introduction of a consistent set of materials collected across England from households for recycling and a “world-leading” tax on plastic packaging, as outlined in the Resources and Waste Strategy late last year.

While the green economy has largely welcomed the overhaul to the Extended Producer Responsibility regime that the tax will bring, opinions vary on the Government’s approach to deposit return schemes for single-use plastic items

The government is exploring two variants of the system, which will operate for cans and plastic and glass bottles. An “all-in” model would focus on all beverages placed on the market, irrespective of size, while the second, “on-the-go” model would restrict drinks containers that could operate in the system to less than 750ml and sold in a single format.

So, does the green economy think that an “all-in” or “on-the-go” model would work best for the UK?

CPRE’s litter programme director Samantha Harding:

“Over the past 40 years, the evidence of the benefits of deposit return systems has only got stronger. Depressingly, parts of industry are still making the same false claims and empty promises in an attempt to thwart its introduction, or limit what it includes...

“By introducing a deposit system that accepts and collects every single can and bottle, Michael Gove has a golden opportunity to end growing scepticism around current recycling methods by boosting recycling rates of drinks cans and bottles to near perfection. This would make such a difference to the health of our environment and relieve struggling local councils of the huge financial burden of waste management by making those who produce these vast amounts of packaging rightfully liable for the costs of dealing with it. We cannot let history repeat itself on deposits for cans and bottles.”

Friends of the Earth plastic campaigner Julian Kirby:

“A radical overhaul of waste strategy is urgently needed to deal with our waste crisis  - but this must include bold targets to substantially cut the waste that squanders precious resources, blights our environment and harms our wildlife.

“A deposit return scheme is long-overdue – it’s been successful in other countries, it’s popular with the public and it will cut the amount of bottles and cans chucked out each year. The scheme must cover all containers, not just small ones. These proposals are welcome steps forward – but bigger strides are needed if we are truly going to deal with the consequences of our throwaway society.”

SUEZ recycling and recovery’s chief executive David Palmer-Jones:

“Deposit return schemes are a useful component of a circular economy, but to make a lasting impact they must sit within a wider Extended Producer Responsibility regime which drives change at the design stage for products and which properly funds recycling systems. Well-designed deposit return schemes, underpinned by producer responsibility, should consign a throw-away culture to the bin. 

“Suez believes that producers should bear the full cost of what they place onto the market which may include the cost of operating a deposit return scheme, alongside existing council recycling systems. Manufacturers with poorly designed products will end up paying the price if their products cannot be recycled. Freeloading on the efforts of others who make their packaging easier to recycle will be tougher.” 

Surfers Against Sewage’s chief executive Hugo Tagholm:

“Despite the stark evidence on our beaches, industry is pushing for a watered-down scheme risking billions of plastic bottles ending up in our oceans. In the face of this, the UK Government must do the right thing for our seas and marine life and put in place a simple ‘all-in’ system without further delay.”

Other responses have focused on the tax regimes outlined in the consultation.

The tax will impact any packaging that does not meet a minimum threshold of at least 30% recycled content by 2022. Proposals will suggest that producers will be forced to pay full net-costs of disposal of packaging they place on the market – up from just 10% now - through the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system.

The Government estimates that an overhaul to the EPR system will raise between £800m and £1bn annually for recycling and disposal.

Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport’s (ADEPT) Waste Group chair Ian Fielding:

“ADEPT supports many of the proposals laid out by the Government. We welcome moves to ensure that packaging producers fund the cost of recycling and the taxation of plastic packaging that does not contain at least 30% recycled content.

“Plans to simplify recycling and improve labelling for the public will help to ensure the quality of recyclables, but we are concerned about the proposed introduction of free garden waste collection. This will almost certainly increase the amount of waste dealt with by local authorities and increase costs. Similarly, we are not convinced that mandatory food waste collections will always provide the best solution across individual local authorities.”

DS Smith’s head of government affairs Peter Clayson:

“DS Smith welcomes Defra and HM Treasury’s consultations on the Resources and Waste Strategy, which includes a focus on packaging reforms and improved home recycling collections and follows the disappointing recent ONS figures that showed paper and cardboard packaging recovered or recycled fell by 3.5% across the UK.

“We believe that the implementation of a genuine circular system which safeguards the quality of material collected to further our economy is potentially obtainable through these consultations. However, there is much work to be done to increase investment and implement a coherent system which rewards good recyclable design and allows consumers to successfully contribute as part of their everyday recycling efforts.”

INCPEN’s chief executive Paul Vanston:

“These Defra consultations on extensive packaging reforms, improving home recycling collections, and implementing a well-designed deposit return system mark a brilliant opportunity to turbo boost the nation’s recycling performance. 

“The whole value chain needs to work together to make recycling easier for citizens at home and on-the-go. We also need to make sure big increases in funding from producers go to the parts of the recycling system where those funds can add the most value. Substantially increasing the quantity and quality of recyclates is imperative.”

WWF’s head of marine policy Dr Lyndsey Dodds:

“We have woken up to the reality of our plastics plague, and any move away from our throwaway culture is welcome. But recycling alone will not solve this crisis – we must reduce the amount produced and used. The government’s actions must be comprehensive and urgent if we are to ensure there is no plastic in nature by 2030.

“Eight million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year and 90% of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs. The natural world isn’t a luxury - it is our life support system, and we must act now to protect it, before it’s too late.”

Matt Mace



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