Michael Gove backs comprehensive 'all-in' deposit return system for plastics

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has publicly backed a deposit return system for plastic containers, irrespective of size, while also warning that time is running out to avert the climate emergency.

The Environment Secretary will also use today’s speech to build on the swelling notion of addressing the climate emergency Image: Chatham House

The Environment Secretary will also use today’s speech to build on the swelling notion of addressing the climate emergency Image: Chatham House

At a speech at Kew Gardens in London today (16 July) Gove is expected to publicly announce his support for an “all-in” deposit return system, claiming it would create a “clearer financial and social signal to recycle” for consumers and businesses alike.

The UK Government announced plans in February 2019 to drastically modify waste management systems through a 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.

The government announced it was exploring two variants of a deposit return 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.

“We need to work with business to make deposit return schemes as effective as possible and I believe an “all-in” deposit return scheme will give consumers the greatest possible incentive to recycle,” Gove will say.

Gove's support of the “all-in” system follows research from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which found that an all-in system would generate £2bn over a 10-year period. In comparison, an “on-the-go” system that collected less would generate £250m.

The analysis was conducted using Defra’s own impact assessments and estimates suggest that recycling of drinks bottles and containers would be boosted to above 90%; in the UK, approximately two billion cartons are purchased each year and less than 10% are recycled.

CPRE's litter campaigner Maddy Haughton-Boakes said: "We welcome Michael Gove's support for an "all-in" deposit return system that would halt the environmental damage caused by the tens of billions of plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans consumed every year in the UK. This is the strongest signal yet of the government's intention to transform the way that we deal with the waste created by drinks containers, preventing them from choking our countryside, streets, rivers and oceans. These comments are another step forward from the government's work to meet the ambitious targets laid out in its Resources and Waste Strategy.

"As well as boosting recycling rates to more than 90%, a deposit return system will ensure that the polluter pays. This means that those who produce the packaging, or those who fail to recycle the packaging, rightly foot the bill for clearing it up. This will relieve cash-strapped local councils and us as taxpayers from this huge financial burden. We look forward to seeing these warm words turned into a formal commitment from the government.'

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government revealed the results of its consultation on implementing a national deposit return scheme for drinks packaging, confirming that it will introduce a 20p deposit fee for all PET and glass bottles as well as aluminium and steel cans.

‘Repair the damage’

The Environment Secretary will also use today’s speech to build on the swelling notion of addressing the climate emergency.

Gove is expected to say that “time is running out to make the difference we need” in order to “repair” the damage to a planet that has been “plundered” by mankind.

"The scale of action required may be daunting, but the need to act is imperative," Gove will say. "There is a political need to act - because we cannot leave this planet to the next generation more polluted, more dangerous, denuded of its natural riches and increasingly inhospitable to all life.

"There is an economic need to act - because unless we restore our natural capital then we will have depleted soils incapable of yielding harvests or sustaining livestock, we will have oceans with more plastic than fish, we will have dried up or contaminated water sources and we will have severe weather events endangering lives and livelihoods.

"And there is a moral need to act - because, as Margaret Thatcher reminded us, we do not have a freehold on this planet, it is not ours to dispose of as we wish, we are partners in the great chain of evolution with the rest of nature and endowed as we are with reason we, therefore, have the responsibility to steward and protect."

Industry reaction

Responding to the comments, Sam Chetan-Welsh, political adviser for Greenpeace UK, said: “Michael Gove’s call for urgency and UK leadership is spot on. By backing an all-inclusive deposit return scheme for bottles and cans, and pledging to force big business to finally foot the bill for the masses of plastic rubbish they create, Gove’s pledges give the next government a good place to start.

“But tangible commitments on climate were notably absent. The next government must speed up the ban on petrol and diesel vehicles, triple renewable power over the next decade, end fracking and Heathrow's third runway, and boost investment in insulating our homes. We’ve had nine years of Conservative-led government, and nine years of snail’s pace progress. The next government must do better on climate and nature, and do it quickly.”

Friends of the Earth's director of communities, Alasdair Roxburgh said: “It’s ironic that this speech on the urgency of the climate crisis was given surrounded by beautiful trees and wildlife, while planes from Heathrow roared overhead and plans for the third runway are supported by government. Alongside throwing out emissions disasters like airport expansion and fracking it’s crucial that the next government supports plans to double tree cover in the UK. If this isn’t done, getting to net-zero emissions will be little more than vague political lip service.”

Nick Molho, executive director at the Aldersgate Group, said: “We strongly welcome the Secretary of State laying out a clear political, economic and moral case to rapidly tackle environmental degradation. The Environment Bill isn’t only of significant importance to society and business – as Mr Gove rightly points out – but it is also core to the success of our overall environmental and climate policy as a healthier environment is critical to our ability to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.
"For the Bill to mark a genuine step-change in environmental action, it is imperative that it contains an overarching objective to significantly improve the state of the natural environment. This objective must be supported by a comprehensive set of targets in secondary legislation aimed at improving key aspects of the natural environment such as air and water quality, soil quality, biodiversity and resource efficiency. This is essential to drive private sector investment in the years to come."

Matt Mace


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