The UK government is paving the way for the introduction of a deposit return scheme for single-use drinks containers, with the launch of a consultation expected later this year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced.
The consultation is likely to be launched in the summer, following the conclusion of HM Treasury’s call for evidence on taxes and charges to reduce waste from single use plastics.
It will examine how existing initiatives in Sweden and Germany, which require shoppers to pay an up-front deposit when they buy a drink which is then redeemed on return of the empty container, could be implemented in the UK.
Possible variants of a deposit return scheme include cash rewards for returning drinks containers without an upfront deposit. This is often done through a network of ‘reverse vending machines’ installed within or outside local shops and supermarkets, where consumers return a plastic bottle and the machine returns the money.
Once a bottle is returned, the businesses are then responsible for making sure they are effectively recycled – a move which has led to a 97% recycling rate in Germany, Defra said.
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) said a deposit return scheme could cause problems for small stores.
Chief executive James Lowman said: “We welcome the government’s attention on this important issue, but there remain concerns about problems that a deposit return scheme will cause in small stores, especially those that do not have the space to install expensive reverse vending machines.
“We encourage the government to continue looking at effective ways to tackle the problem of plastic recycling.”
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, environment secretary Michael Gove said.
“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 added.
The consultation will take into account views from producers, suppliers and consumers and 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, Defra added.