Sturgeon set out her Government’s plans for the forthcoming year at the Scottish Parliament earlier this afternoon. Under these proposals, diesel and petrol cars and vans will be phased out by 2032, eight years earlier than the UK Government’s target

Other key green proposals include a plan to create low-emission zones in the country’s four biggest cities by 2020, and the creation of a new Innovation Fund which will invest £60m to deliver low-carbon energy infrastructure solutions such as battery storage and electric vehicle (EV) charging.

Commenting on the plastic bottle deposit return scheme plan, Sturgeon said: “We will also do more to support the circular economy and reduce waste. I can confirm today that we will design and introduce a deposit return scheme for containers, as an important part of our determination to tackle litter and clean up our streets.”

‘Momentous step’

Scottish consumers will pay a small deposit for plastic and glass bottles, which can be refunded upon return to a shop. The scheme will mirror parallel deposit return projects in Scandinavian countries such as Norway, where recycling rates of containers are now above 95%.

The Scottish Government commissioned Zero Waste Scotland to investigate design options for a deposit return scheme in June. Evidence gathered from 63 respondents such as Coca-Cola and Diageo showed numerous benefits of running such a system, including net savings of £5m a year from reduced kerbside litter.

The announcement was greeted positively by environmental groups, with the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) calling it a “momentous step” towards a cleaner environment.

“Deposit return systems are easy to use and recapture valuable materials,” CPRE litter programme director Samantha Harding said. “There is little doubt the system will prove a triumph in Scotland, and it paves the way for the rest of the UK.”

Echoing these views, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK chief executive David Palmer-Jones said: “We are delighted that the Scottish Government is showing national leadership with plans for deposit scheme for plastic bottles. It shows encouraging and progressive leadership in reducing waste and litter.

“Suez backs UK wide bottle return schemes – it makes not just environmental sense but, importantly, economic sense too – putting pounds in the pockets of both households and business through reduced waste disposal costs and reduced need to buy virgin raw materials.” 

But the scheme has not been universally welcomed. The makers of Irn Bru, AG Barr, have warned that the country would be subject to fraud as well as potentially reverse household recycling rates.

“On a small-scale we could see people scavenging in bins for containers, as is the US experience,” AG Barr said. “On a medium-scale there is potential for local authority amenity centre looting. On a larger-scale there is the very real possibility of cross-border trafficking of deposit-bearing containers.”

Will rest of the UK follow suit?

As coverage of plastic waste has grown, driven by fresh CSR campaigns from the likes of Sky, so have discussions about the UK’s willingness to tackle the issue head on. The UK’s recycling rates for plastic bottles are flatlining at 57%, while other European nations are recording recycling rates for bottles at 98%.

Recent research from the Green Alliance suggests that incorporating reverse vending as part of a wider return deposit scheme in the UK could reduce one third of plastic seeping into the oceans.

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.

However, the UK market for deposit schemes is in its infancy, with businesses and politicians looking at alternatives – such as water refill stations or outright bans on plastic bottles instead.

Defra explored the potential of a deposit scheme as far back as 2008, but suggested that alternative schemes can achieve the same outcomes at a lower cost. The lack of political desire could be shifting, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove calling on the Government to introduce a deposit scheme “as soon as possible”.

A 2010 study by Bristol-based consultants Eunomia found that that a deposit scheme would cost £84m to introduce, £700m to run each year and would generate £160m in savings for local authorities. Additional benefits of the deposit scheme were claimed to reach £1.2bn for the UK economy.

George Ogleby

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