Sadiq Khan urged to explore plastic bottle return scheme

The London Assembly Environment Committee (LAEC) has called on the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to fulfil his promise of becoming the 'greenest Mayor London has ever had' by exploring the viability of a return scheme for plastic bottles, with a view to a city-wide trial.

The LAEC has today (13 April) published its response to the environmental impacts of single-use plastic bottles in the form of its Bottled Water report. With the report highlighting that plastic bottles account 10% of all litter found in the Thames, the LAEC has called on the Mayor to promote deposit/return schemes (DRS) and improve access to water refilling stations across the city.

Environment Committee Chair, Leonie Cooper AM, said: “Plastic waste is out of control in London. It litters our parks, pollutes the Thames, harms marine life, and adds waste to London’s landfill sites, which may be full by 2025.

“We have to turn the situation around. Firstly, Londoners need an alternative to buying bottles of water – this is a crucial part of the solution. Tap water needs to be more readily available. Secondly, we need to improve our recycling of plastic bottles. Electors heard Sadiq Khan pledge to be the ‘greenest Mayor London has ever had’, now it’s time to fulfil that promise by addressing our thirst for plastic bottled water.”

Around 60% of bottles are currently recycled in the UK and industry data shows that bottled-water production has grown from 1,574m litres in 2008 to 2,246m litres in 2015. That equates to around 3.37 plastic bottles per person per week in London alone.

The committee, who first discussed solutions to plastic bottle waste with the Greater London Authority (GLA), WRAP and the #OneLess campaign in February, believes that DRS could be modelled on those used in Europe to reduce plastic waste and boost London’s recycling rates.

The report notes that DRS offers “an incentive for returning plastic bottles by adding a reclaimable amount to the price of bottled drinks” and has implored the Mayor to work with key stakeholders and London businesses to examine the feasibility of a return system.

Coca-Cola has recently announced it supports testing a deposit return service for drinks cans and bottles, although new Greenpeace statistics have revealed that the firm is producing more than 100 billion plastic bottles each year.

Studies on European systems show that DRS could increase recycling rates of the bottles to 98% and has already shown relative success in Germany. In comparison, London boroughs account for some of the worst recycling rates in England. Newham borough, for example, had the lowest recycling rate in England, at 15% in 2015.

Based on the success of the examination, the report recommends that the Mayor offers London as a pilot site for Government backed DRS, which could eventually be rolled out nationwide.

Refilling stations

The report also notes that improving access to free drinking water throughout the city could reduce the number of single-use plastic bottles in circulation. The LAEC has called on the Mayor to encourage community water refills schemes, allowing Londoners to fill up bottles at participating businesses and public venues.

Alongside installing more water refilling stations in the capital, the report calls on the Mayor to promote apps that help Londoners locate businesses willing to provide free water refills.

A trial similar to this is already available in Bristol, where cafes, shops, hotels and businesses are encouraged to let the public refill water bottles for free. London Zoo and Selfridges have conducted similar schemes.

Commenting on the findings of the report, London recycling business First Mile’s chief executive Bruce Bratley said: “Plastic bottles are clogging up the Thames because municipal recycling bins on the streets and in parks are low in number, inconsistent in design and there’s confusion about what can go into them.

“Recycling doesn’t have to be so complex; not only does the UK have the technology to separate plastic easily in mixed recycling, but we are quickly finding ways to recycle more than we ever have before. In my opinion, better services coupled with better education and communication will help to solve this issue.”

Matt Mace

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