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Scotland is pressing on with a Deposit Return Scheme – England and Wales must do the same

Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I

4 min read Partner content

Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) are one of those rarest of policy ideas – one that’s simple, cost neutral for the consumer, demonstrably effective, and seemingly enjoys broad cross-party support.

Consumers pay a small deposit on their drinks bottles and cans, which is then refunded to them when they return the container for recycling. Recycling rates go up, littering goes down, and consumers are not out-of-pocket. Germany’s scheme has been in place for over 30 years and recycling rates for plastic bottles are at 98%+, compared to the UK’s disappointing 50%.

It’s a win-win for everybody.

It’s no surprise therefore that the Scottish Government are pressing ahead with their plans for a DRS – which is due to launch in exactly one year’s time this week. Suntory Beverage and Food GB&I (SBF GB&I) is proud to be a founding partner of Circularity Scotland, the company that is working with the Scottish Government to implement and administer that scheme.

What is concerning however is that, despite a commitment to do so, England and Wales are not proceeding at the same pace. They should be launching their own DRS in 2024, but are at risk of further delays. 

While this may seem like a relatively minor issue in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis causing real pain to millions of families up and down the country, this summer’s heatwave has provided yet another reminder that we cannot delay acting to address the climate emergency.

Beyond the scourge of plastic pollution in our natural environment, so impactfully highlighted by Sir David Attenborough in Blue Planet II, the way we currently use plastic has real implications for our carbon footprint. Studies suggest that using recycled plastic to make soft drinks bottles results in 79% fewer GHG emissions compared to using virgin plastic derived from fossil fuels. As a soft drinks sector, we cannot reach net zero unless there is a step change in our use of recycled plastic. 

As one of the world’s largest soft drinks companies, SBFGB&I knows that we have a special responsibility and opportunity to ensure future generations inherit and enjoy a healthy planet.

As a company we aim to reach net zero across all our operations and supply chain by 2050, and, in the shorter term, to lower our carbon footprint from our direct operations by 50% by 2030. A key part of achieving that goal is changing our relationship with plastic, and we are aiming for 100% of the plastic used in our bottles to be sustainably sourced by 2030. No more virgin plastic will be used in our bottles.

This change has already occurred in some of our most well-loved brands. Since 2020, Ribena bottles are both 100% recyclable and made from 100% recycled plastic. Lucozade Sport followed this year, and we hope to make the change for Lucozade Energy shortly – however progress on both Lucozade brands was and is delayed due to an acute shortage of food-grade recycled plastic in the UK.

While bottle recycling rates remain at just 50%, we will never collect enough high-quality plastic to ensure that all soft drinks bottles are made from recycled plastic. And while that remains the case, our progress to Net Zero risks being delayed.

The answer to this problem is clear. The UK Government should move ahead with implementing a DRS for England and Wales. 

We know they work. The irony of our current situation is that SBF GB&I sources the recycled plastic we currently use in our bottles from the Netherlands and Germany – both countries with operational deposit return schemes!

As a country, we have the opportunity to increase recycling, cut litter and reduce our carbon emissions – all while creating jobs and investment in the UK and reducing our dependency on imports. 

Of course, a DRS by itself is not a silver bullet. We need action across a range of areas – from ensuring the proceeds of the Plastic Packaging Tax are invested in recycling infrastructure, to ensuring standardisation of what local authorities collect from households. But there is little doubt that DRS is the single-most impactful policy available to Government – international examples as well as our own recent research demonstrate it will kick-start a tidal wave of positive behaviour change and increase recycling rates among consumers.

As a business, we’re doing all we can to reduce, reuse and recycle the plastic we use – such as investing in new innovation, like Carbios’s enzymatic recycling technology which will mean plastic can be recycled endlessly. But we need the Government to create the right conditions to help businesses deliver on their plastic commitments and ambitions, so that we can not only achieve them, but go further.

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