There has been a lot of media attention in recent weeks looking at things that can be done to improve recycling rates and reduce littering. One of the proposed measures is a deposit return scheme (DRS) for bottles and cans.
There are a number of unknowns about how such a scheme would work. We don’t yet know whether it’ll be just plastic bottles, plastic and glass, or even plastic, glass and metal cans, and there are still questions about whether stores would have to house large, expensive automatic reverse-vending machines, or take back materials manually at the till. If stores had to take back bottles manually it would cause problems for staff in terms of the time taken to deal with deposit returns, managing issues with customers that bring in items that can’t be recycled, and hygiene issues, as it’s unlikely that all of the bottles and cans will have been properly washed.
There’s also research suggesting that recycling rates of plastic bottles are already pretty high. Figures from Valpak show that 74% of plastic beverage containers are already being recycled, so if DRS were effective there would be only a 10-15% rise in recycling rates.
We as a sector are keen to be part of effective ways of reducing litter and the impact of discarded packaging on the environment. However, when it comes to DRS, the financial and operational risk to retailers is too high; there are too many unknowns about the details of a scheme; and there is a wide-ranging existing kerbside collection network that isn’t being utilised to its fullest effect.
Until all of these concerns are addressed, DRS cannot be a workable system in the UK.