Thought leadership

People in England will soon have to pay a deposit when they buy drinks bottles and cans in a bid to boost recycling and cut waste. The deposit will increase prices – but consumers will get the money back if they return the container.

The scheme is expected to cover single-use glass and plastic bottles, and steel and aluminium cans. Full details are subject to consultation and yet to be decided, including how big the deposit will be.

The government announcement comes after the Blue Planet II series highlighted the threat of ocean pollution and showed footage of wildlife eating plastic.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said there was no doubt that plastic was “wreaking havoc” on the marine environment and discarded plastic bottles and cans “end up dumped on pavements and lobbed into rivers, lakes and the sea”.

“We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use, and now we want to take action on plastic bottles to help clean up our oceans,” he said.

“We need to see a change in attitudes and behaviour. And the evidence shows that reward and return schemes are a powerful agent of change.”

UK consumers use around 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year but more than three billion are not recycled.

Scotland has already announced plans for a deposit return scheme and Wales has launched a study to consider it. Similar schemes in northern Europe have led to a big increase in the amount of plastic recycled.

‘Brilliant decision’

The announcement has been welcomed by environmental campaigners, but industry may be worried about the price tag.

It may be asked to pick up the bill for the deposit return scheme. Currently plastics producers pay just 10% of the cost of recycling packaging.

Councils will also be anxious to ensure that kerbside collecting is not undercut when details are confirmed.

Samantha Harding, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “This is a brilliant and significant decision by Michael Gove.

“I am thrilled that we will finally see the many benefits a deposit system will bring to England, not least the absence of ugly drinks containers in our beautiful countryside.

“What’s significant is that producers will now pay the full costs of their packaging, reducing the burden on the taxpayer and setting a strong precedent for other schemes where the polluter pays.”

Ministers have visited deposit return schemes in several north European nations.

They were impressed by a Norwegian scheme, which claims a 94% recycling rate for bottles made from PET, the clear plastic used for water and fizzy drinks.

The entire scheme in Norway was set up by the beverage industry after the government slapped a tax on every un-recycled bottle. The drinks industry has installed machines in shops that take in used bottles and cans and give back a coupon to return the deposit.

Mr Gove said the 5p levy put on plastic bags proves how effectively the UK can respond as consumption of single-use carrier bags is down 83%. He said it was vital to act, pointing to two reports last week.

One said plastic pollution in the sea would treble in a decade unless marine litter is curbed. The other warned that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – an artificial island of plastic material twice the size of France – is thought to contain 79,000 tonnes of floating waste – that is up to 16 times more plastic and microplastic particles than previously estimated.

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