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The UK Government announced this week that it will introduce a drinking bottle deposit return scheme, which will increase recycling and slash the amount of waste polluting our land and seas and thus cut the cost of cleaning it up. While I’m delighted at the news, I don’t understand why something wasn’t done about the problem sooner… UK consumers go through an estimated 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year, but more than three billion are incinerated, sent to landfill or left to pollute our streets, countryside and marine environment. It’s disgraceful, really, isn’t it?
A consultation on the best ways of introducing a scheme in England for single use drinks containers (whether plastic, glass or metal), will look at how such a scheme would work, alongside other measures to increase recycling rates. The Government says it wants to talk to the devolved administrations about the scope for working together and I hope a scheme covering the whole of the UK can be put in place, since consistency always makes it easier for the general public to follow the rules.
We know it works… When I was a child, we paid extra for drinks in glass bottles and many of us enjoyed a pocket money bonus by collecting discarded bottles and returning them to the supplier, who gave us whatever deposit had been paid. Nowadays of course, there are lots more bottles about, so the rewards could be pretty good! Schemes already operate in countries such as Denmark, Sweden (8p deposit) and Germany (22p deposit). Possible variants up for discussion include cash rewards for returning drinks containers without an upfront deposit having been paid, through, perhaps, a network of ‘reverse vending machines’, where you insert your plastic or glass bottle or can and the machine returns your money. Once a bottle is returned, businesses are then responsible for making sure they are effectively recycled – a move that has led to an impressive 97% recycling rate in Germany.
The consultation will sit alongside a package of wider reforms of the current packaging waste system, which will incentivise producers to take greater responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products and to increase the amount of packaging they recycle. The Government has already introduced a scheme which has led to 9 billion fewer bags being distributed, while its plastic microbeads ban has been hailed as one of the world’s strongest bans. I hope it chooses something as successful for drinks bottles and that it works hard to tackle the over-use of plastic packaging too. It really can’t come a moment too soon.
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29th March 2018