No deposit return scheme in the UK until 2027

Deposit Return Scheme

The UK’s deposit return scheme, touted as the solution to improving the recycling rate of drinks bottles and cans, has been delayed until 2027. The announcement has caused dismay among environmental charities. So what is the deposit return scheme and why have the goalposts moved again?

What is the deposit return scheme and why is it delayed?

The scheme aims to reward consumers for recycling plastic bottles and cans. As part of the scheme, supermarkets will have reverse vending machines, where people can exchange bottles and cans for money or vouchers.

The government says the UK uses more than 20 billion bottles and cans every year and most of these end up in landfill. So why then has the scheme been delayed? The government says it needs time to roll out the scheme across the UK. It also seems like it’s having a hard time agreeing on the approach with the devolved governments.

The Scottish and Welsh governments have plans for their own deposit return schemes which will come in line with the broader UK plan. However, both governments want to include glass in their schemes; something the UK government says is too complicated and expensive.  The failure to agree on this is one of the most significant reasons for the delay. 

Why does the UK need a deposit return scheme?

Figures released by Greenpeace and CPRE, the countryside charity, back in 2019, show that over 8 billion drinks containers were wasted across the UK. That is 126 cans or bottles for every person in the UK. These cans and bottles were sent to landfill, incinerated, or ended up in the environment as litter, causing pollution and endangering wildlife. Of these drinks containers, 40% were plastic bottles and 33% were cans.

Deposit return schemes in other countries

Greenpeace says the delay in introducing the scheme ‘makes a mockery’ of the government’s commitment to tackling plastic waste. It also pointed to successful schemes in other countries as an example of how it could work here. 

Unlike the UK, Germany already has a successful deposit return scheme. According to Reloop, an organisation that works with governments and industry stakeholders to shape policy, most countries with a deposit return scheme divert more than 90% of drinks containers from landfills. Germany has the best return rate at a whopping 98%. As a result, it keeps precious glass, metal, and PET plastic circulating in the economy. A Reloop report found that for nations with a deposit return scheme in place, the average return rates were 91% for PET bottles, 89% for cans, and 97% for glass. This is much higher than we could achieve through kerbside recycling. It's also a persuasive argument for the quicker introduction of a scheme in the UK. 

With many environmental targets and initiatives being pushed back by the government, let’s hope that a deposit return scheme is introduced sooner rather than later. It will be a vital step toward tackling the persistent problem of plastic pollution in the UK.

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