Published Thursday 19th September 2019

With the importance of being sustainable becoming an ever more pressing concern, governments and businesses are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. A lot of ideas are being considered, but one quickly gaining traction is that of a deposit return scheme (DRS). Already planned for Scotland, it is becoming increasingly likely that such an initiative will come into force across the UK in the next few years, if not sooner.

Introducing DRS into the national waste system will undoubtedly help businesses and governments reach sustainability goals. It will also revolutionise the waste process for all stakeholders, with the potential to cause significant disruption to established practices. With questions still to be answered regarding its scope and actionability, how could DRS transform waste production and collection going forward?

What is a Deposit Return Scheme?

Deposit Return Schemes have already been implemented in many countries across the world, as governments look to reach sustainability goals and reduce the amount of single-use plastics. Essentially, DRS involves a small deposit that is put on the price of single-use containers, which the consumer reclaims when they return it to a recycling point. Such a scheme targets products that can already be recycled but are often not, due to either a lack of nearby facilities or motivation from the consumer.

The scope of DRS schemes across the world varies and remains one of the major talking points concerning the UK’s implementation. In Germany, DRS has been part of the recycling infrastructure since 2003. Their DRS involves a €0.25 deposit added to PET plastic, aluminium, steel and glass containers. In Norway, meanwhile, DRS concerns only plastic bottles and cans, with a 10-25p deposit paid depending on the size of the container. The Norwegian system is complemented by an environmental tax on all producers that is reduced or voided if recycling targets are met.

In all circumstances, a deposit return scheme is seen to have been successful with regards to recycling rates. Both Norway and Germany achieve recycling rates of over 95% for the materials involved, whilst other nations ith such schemes regularly reach over 80%. As a rough comparison, the 2017 figure for recycling packaging waste in the UK was 70.2%.

Questions Being Asked About UK Deposit Return Scheme

As previously mentioned, there is a growing desire from consumers to see such a scheme implemented across the UK. Following an announcement about the government’s plans by then Environment Secretary Michael Gove in July, a survey found three-quarters of UK consumers in favour of DRS.

During the announcement mentioned above, Mr Gove signalled his belief in “an ‘all-in’ model [that] will give consumers the greatest possible incentive to recycle.” Feasibly, this would line the UK system alongside the German initiative. However, the latest government papers from August indicate they “are minded to introduce a DRS for drinks containers in England and Wales from 2023.” Such a scheme would be more similar to the Norway model. The Scottish government’s DRS is set to involve all PET plastic, metal and glass containers, from 50ml to three litres.

Whilst all stakeholders are in favour of DRS, how the scheme will fit into the modern system is still to be agreed. One of the major issues facing DRS is the devolved nature of waste collection, with local and regional councils likely to be in charge of the procedures. Needs across the country may not suit a nationally-uniformed process, whilst there is also a question about funding for the required infrastructure. There are also questions about whether online retailers will need to comply with any deposit return scheme.

Whilst a DRS system would certainly disrupt the current recycling and waste management systems, it also presents opportunities for proactive businesses. Here at ERA, we’re experts at helping major companies reduce their packaging and waste expenses through the implementation of effective procurement strategies. Our waste expense management solutions have helped businesses save money whilst also achieving their corporate sustainability goals. If you’re interested in seeing what our long-term waste strategies could do for your company, why not get in contact with us today?