Last week, as Theresa May’s premiership approached its end, we saw government ministers and departments releasing consultations, statements, statistics and policy announcements as a final parting shot before the summer recess and the likely formation of a new cabinet. One of the announcements that got a lot of attention was the speech from environment secretary Michael Gove where he outlined his support for an ‘all in’ deposit return scheme.
What does he mean by this, and what does it mean for you? Firstly, “all-in” means that all sizes of packaging will be included in a deposit return scheme, and – even though Michael Gove actually referred to drinks containers – “all-in” is also often taken to mean including a wide range of packaging materials holding a wide range of products.
We’ve had literally thousands of conversations with retailers about the implications of a deposit return scheme on retailers, and this evidence suggests that an ‘all in’ scheme will cause significant problems. The first thing to consider is the range of fluids and foods that could be coming back to stores if all different types of plastic, glass and metal are included in the scheme. Unwashed cans, milk cartons, and sticky fizzy drinks are all potential hazards, and that’s without getting into the containers themselves – broken glass and jagged edges on metal cans will be very difficult to deal with safely. With more retailers looking to offer fresh food to go and reduce the amount of packaging on products in their stores, there is a real risk of contamination, especially if retailers are going to be forced to accept these containers over the till on a manual basis.
The second issue with an ‘all in’ scheme is the lack of restrictions on the size of containers that will be accepted. Allowing all sizes of container will mean that retailers will have to put bigger return machines in, and if they have to accept containers manually this would result in any space behind the till being taken up very quickly.
Also, these larger containers are most likely to be consumed at home, and there’s a pretty well established kerbside recycling system to deal with those. That system is far from perfect – and Michael Gove also announced plans to make these more consistent and effective – but taking large amounts of packaging out of that system will make it less economic for local authorities to operate, and less convenient for customers who will have to go to stores to return their packaging and get their deposit back, rather than just leaving it outside their home.
That’s why we don’t believe that ‘all-in’ is the right way forward. Any deposit return scheme that gets introduced should be targeted on the real problem, which is primarily people throwing away plastic bottles while they’re on the go. A scheme with a less precise target won’t be the best use of resources, and there are serious implications for retailers, too.