Tesco supports deposit return scheme for plastic packaging

Following Theresa May's declaration that all avoidable plastic waste will be eliminated in the next 25 years, UK supermarket retailer Tesco has announced its support for a "cost-effective" deposit return scheme on packaging.

Tesco published an update to its Little Helps plan, which sets out targets to make all packaging fully recyclable or compostable by 2025, following the release of the Government’s 25-year Environmental Plan. The Little Helps update outlines Tesco’s willingness to work with Government bodies, innovators and other retailers to implement a plethora of solutions to plastic waste, which is currently plaguing oceans and waterways.

Notably, Tesco has outlined its support for a deposit return scheme on plastic packaging, which would see consumers pay a small deposit for plastic and glass bottles, before refunding it upon returning the container to a shop.

“We do support developing a cost-effective deposit return system (DRS) and are currently working with a number of partners to scope a project to explore how this can operate in practice and at scale,” a blog post from Tesco’s reads. “We view DRS as only one aspect of the holistic approach that is required to achieve the broader goals of reducing waste and increasing recycling in the UK.”

Tesco is currently working on 2025 target to halve packaging waste and ensure that all paper and board is 100% sustainable. In the UK, the retailer has replaced polystyrene in fish packaging, avoiding 653 tonnes from being used. Altering plastic meat trays has also removed 96 tonnes of plastic. Overall, more than 78% of the packaging on all Tesco-branded products is recyclable, provided local authorities collect it.

Support for the scheme

Last year, Defra Secretary Michael Gove confirmed he will work with businesses to see how a drinks container deposit return scheme could work in England, a notion which has since been supported by MPs.

Scotland has already announced that the country will introduce a national deposit return scheme for drinks containers, which has helped Scandinavian nations boost recycling rates into the low 90s. Following Scotland’s announcement, Coca-Cola – which increased production of plastic bottles by well over a billion last year – announced it support for testing the scheme.

Tesco is also asking to work with Government and suppliers to create a closed-loop system for packaging that targets production, infrastructure and behaviour change. The retailer will target compostable and biodegradable materials as alternate packaging, while engaging consumers on how to dispose of current plastic packaging. However, one of the big challenges Tesco wants to overcome is the “inconsistencies” found in recycling infrastructure.

“Currently, the inconsistencies in infrastructure and recycling activities between councils make consumer education and closed loop systems impossible to build,” Tesco added. “We would welcome the creation of an integrated national collection of packaging and investment in innovative recycling facilities.”

Improving the recycling process would require a reform to the Packaging Recovery Notes (PRN) system, according to the retailer. The Producer Responsibility Obligations (PRO) system creates a legal obligation for packaging producers to ensure that a proportion of their marketed products are recovered and recycled. Businesses can show evidence of their compliance by purchasing PRNs.

For the UK, this cost is around €20 per tonne, but other European nations have an average for producer responsibility at around €150 per tonne. PROs from UK businesses currently contribute to just 10% of the cost of waste disposal, with taxpayers paying the remaining 90%.

Commenting on Tesco’s support for the scheme, Greenpeace’s senior oceans campaigner Louise Edge said: “It’s great news that Britain’s biggest retailer has come out firmly in support of deposit return schemes.

“The ocean plastic problem is complex, and some areas will require innovation, but there is plenty of low hanging fruit, and one of the lowest and ripest is a deposit return scheme (DRS) for bottles. The public support DRS, at least three of our supermarket chains now support DRS, even Coca Cola support DRS…Instead of announcing vague aspirations for 2043, the government should be implementing a DRS right now.”

Matt Mace

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