UK’s Deposit Return Scheme to launch in October 2027

The scheme has been on the cards for almost six years, and is viewed as a vital systems change to promote the recycling of certain materials and products.

A DRS was first promised back in 2018 when the Government launched its Resources and Waste Strategy. Under such a scheme, customers are required to pay a small deposit when purchasing drinks, which they can receive back as a refund when returning the drinks packaging for recycling through a verified channel. This could be a return to the counter in supermarkets or through the use of reverse vending machines. Nations already running DRSs include Germany, Finland and Norway.

In 2023, the Government stated that the DRS would be introduced in 2025, covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland, which was due to have its own DRS launched in March 2024 has also delayed its scheme until October 2025 at the earliest.

It was reported that the Government, which is still committed to a goal to eliminate all avoidable waste by 2050, would delay the DRS scheme to 2028.

Glass half full

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Water and Rural Growth Robbie Moore gave a statement to Parliament on Thursday (25 April), outlining that polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles, steel and aluminium cans will be included in the DRS. Glass containers, however, would be excluded from the scheme.

“It remains my view that including glass in any UK DRS will create undue complexity for the drinks industry and it increases storage and handling costs for retailers,” Moore said. “Glass containers are heavy and fragile, making them more difficult for consumers to return and receive the deposit they have paid, potentially forcing up the cost of their shopping.”

The justification for this decision is that the UK consumes – and litters – more plastic drink bottles and drink cans than glass bottles. Its own figures state that 14 billion plastic drink bottles and nine billion drink cans are used each year. It believes that, even with glass excluded, the DRS will lead to an 85% decrease in drink container littering within three years.

Scotland looks set to utilise the same system when its DRS scheme launches, but Wales does intend to incorporate glass into its collection systems. In February this year, Ireland launched its own DRS, offering incentives for recycling plastic drink bottles and aluminium cans.

Industry reaction: A welcome start

The announcement – provided it can be delivered to time – is viewed as a welcome boost for the UK’s major food and drink manufacturers

Karen Betts, CEO, Food and Drink Federation said:

“We welcome today’s confirmation that the UK will be putting a Deposit Return Scheme in place as part of plans for a circular economy.  This means that drinks containers will be able to be recycled and used again more efficiently and easily, which is good news for the environment, companies and consumers. 

“It’s critical that the UK’s governments now work closely together to ensure the scheme is easy to use and understand, operating under the same rules and with the same labels across the four nations. A consistent, UK-wide approach is the best way to ensure value for money and to drive up the UK’s disappointing recycling rates.”

Paul Graham, Managing Director, Great Britain, Britvic plc said:

Britvic has long advocated for an aligned, well-designed deposit return scheme in the UK because we believe it can deliver a truly circular economy, and ensure that great packaging never becomes waste. This announcement takes us closer to achieving this goal. We encourage everyone to play their part in building on this progress towards a fully interoperable scheme, so that collectively we can finally maximise the environmental benefits of DRS in the UK.”

Dusan Stojankic, Coca-Cola, Vice-President, Great Britain and Ireland said:

At Coca-Cola, we want to recycle every single can and bottle we put onto the market and today’s announcement is a huge step towards the well-designed deposit return schemes that will help us achieve just that. To make sure DRS is a success, we must have truly interoperable schemes in place across England, Scotland and Wales. We call on all parties and governments to work together to ensure that the schemes move forward with pace and with consistency of materials in scope. Having a common approach will ensure we have a best-in class system in place – and is the only way we will improve the circular economy and cut litter.

Carol Robert, Chief Operating Officer, Suntory Beverage & Food Great Britain and Ireland:

“The rest of Europe has moved with the times to create a circular economy for drinks containers, so it’s only right that the stopwatch starts again in the UK’s race to build an effective Deposit Return Scheme. As well as long term benefits such as reduced litter and increased recycling rates, a DRS is also a critical step for businesses, and the UK, to achieve net zero. We’ve seen a positive start for Ireland’s DRS and it is now essential that we work on an interoperable UK-wide approach with detailed, prescriptive and consistent DRS regulations. SBF GB&I has been poised on the starting line and we’re ready to give our full backing to make DRS a reality and a contributor to our goal of achieving 100% sustainable packaging by 2030.” 

Gemma Morgan, Category Director Beverages – Danone UK & Ireland, said:

“A DRS helps keep plastic out of nature, increase recycling rates and achieve circularity targets. It is currently challenging to get the quality and quantity of recycled material we need here in the UK, and we believe a DRS would significantly improve this. Danone UK & Ireland is ready to work with industry and government to achieve a unified scheme that can be implemented to the new timeline and prevent any further delays.”

Gavin Graveson, Senior Executive Vice President Veolia Northern Europe Zone said:

“A deposit return scheme needs to work for the entire UK and fit within the recycling system we already have. This delay shows us that Defra is serious about prioritising the big ticket items that will accelerate the circular economy today, whilst laying the groundwork for future developments.

“The extended producer responsibility scheme, for example, will be a gamechanger for the industry. Packaging that is made to be recycled will be the cheapest choice for producers; a positive step for the environment, the economy and consumers. The Plastic Packaging Tax is already in place but needs strengthening to stimulate end market demand for recycled materials. Combining these policies, with Simpler Recycling for England, will optimise the system and drive improvements.”

Comments (1)

  1. Roger Munford says:

    I cannot believe how stupidly moronic it is to exclude glass.
    Just have a look at Germany where I lived many years ago.
    Just make bottles standard, beer , juice ,water, milk.
    If the bottle is standard you can take it back to any shop.
    Bottles can be washed and reused over 10 times and then recycled.
    What is the f*ing point in taking a useable bottle, smashing it up, driving it up to the North of England, melting it, with a lot of energy, making a new bottle, then driving it around the country to the packagers.
    To get an idea of the energy saved, open up your dishwasher and you wouldn’t hesitate to take a glass out. You wouldn’t stick your hand in a glass furnace and pull out a fistful of molten glass.
    The Germans realised decades ago that packaging is not the responsibility of consumers, it is the responsibility of packagers.

    “It remains my view that including glass in any UK DRS will create undue complexity for the drinks industry and it increases storage and handling costs for retailers,” Moore said. “Glass containers are heavy and fragile, making them more difficult for consumers to return and receive the deposit they have paid, potentially forcing up the cost of their shopping.”
    Don’t bother with any research just accept that it is undue complexity and do nothing.
    Of course the reason you never see drinks containers littering Germany is that the Germans are – well “disciplined”. Absolutely nothing to do with an efficient, well thought out system for delivering foodstuffs and collecting and recycling the packaging which already has its disposal costs paid for by the packager, not the hapless council who have to figure out how to organise and finance a recycling collection.
    I just drink my beer and take the bottle back to a shop. I do not need and do not want to pay for a big lump of brown glass with a humorous name like Bishop’s Knob moulded into it. How much does that cost to make for a one off journey?
    Fans of German beer please note, the bottles you buy in the UK are one way bottles which contain less glass. They are however the same shape as the returnable ones used in Europe

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