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The government must bring forward a harmonised approach to Deposit Return Schemes across the UK

The government must bring forward a harmonised approach to Deposit Return Schemes across the UK
3 min read

The introduction of deposit return schemes (DRS) in the United Kingdom has the potential to be a major step forward in the fight against packaging waste and litter.

There is a clear need to take action to combat our waste problem. Each year, consumers across the UK are estimated to get through 14 billion plastic bottles, nine billion aluminium and steel cans, and 1.5 billion glass bottles. Too much plastic is produced with companies not knowing where it has come from or where it goes, and consumers unclear on what to do with it after. 

The deposit return scheme (DRS) idea is a simple one, it incentivises consumers to return containers by charging a small deposit that is subsequently refunded. The implementation of DRS across the UK will fundamentally change the way we recycle for the better. 

The Government made commitments as far back as 2018 to introduce a deposit return scheme yet we have only recently received the consultation response from Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on the proposals from the scheme in England. Scotland is pushing ahead with a roll out of a scheme later this year and Wales is piloting a digital scheme powered by an app.

Deposit return schemes are not a new concept to the UK, with schemes for glass bottles being commonplace back in the 1960s and 1970s until the rising popularity of plastics and changes in consumer behaviour ended them. We’ve also seen individual brand owners create the incentive. For instance, until as recently as 2015, Scottish soft drinks brand owner AG Barr famously had a long-standing tradition of returning a 30p deposit on its ‘ginger bottles’ of Irn Bru.

Deposit return schemes are already being used effectively in over 45 countries and there are many examples of them vastly improving recycling rates. In Sweden, DRS has been in use for three decades with collection rates close to 100%. The scheme in Germany is one of the most ambitious internationally, introduced in 2003 it has achieved return rates of 98%.

In the UK, thanks to years of inaction, we are clearly lagging behind.

Research from GS1 UK, the business behind the every-day barcode and data standards, shows that 58 per cent of consumers don’t realise they’ll be affected and a third of businesses have never heard of deposit return schemes.

The response to this research must be led by DEFRA who should enable legislators to bring forward a harmonised approach across the UK.

All four nations have announced plans to introduce some form of scheme by 2025 but as waste management is a devolved issue, each nation is pursuing a different approach with a different timeline.

This means there are significant challenges that we need to address now. Businesses need time to get ready and consumer behaviour will need to change as a result we must move faster to build awareness across the UK.

A common sense, all-nation approach is vital and so I hope that Ministers will heed Labour’s call for a task force across the four nations to come together and agree a way forward to implement a much-needed scheme across our United Kingdom.

For this to be a success, simplicity and convenience is key. We need a future-proofed approach that provides producers, retailers and consumers with a clear and accessible way forward.

Solutions can only be found if there is a willingness to do so, I will continue to urge the Department to prioritise this scheme to allow us to deal with our evident waste problem. Labour wants to see a successful deposit return scheme finally implemented, we will push to ensure its success across the UK through a harmonised, neutral, flexible and future-proofed approach.

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