As the Scottish and UK Governments introduce Deposit Return Schemes, we dig below the surface to expose the myths and half-truths being used to sway public opinion.
A Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) is designed to increase consumer recycling by applying a deposit of 20p to every container used for packaging. Customers will need to take back the empty containers to a dedicated return point to redeem their 20p. The DRS scheme, which includes glass, will be introduced in Scotland and the rest of the UK over the next few years.
Claims, a DRS will;
1. Make it easier for everyone to recycle their used bottles and cans
This cannot be true. Everyone in the UK will have regular council household collections, if they don’t already, by 2025. It is far easier to recycle using your recycling bins at home than travel to a local shop or social centre and queue. Let’s face it, post-Coronavirus the last thing people will want to find themselves doing is queuing at the shops again. People who struggle to travel, such as the disabled, single parents, elderly or those who rely on home deliveries will have to change their routines to redeem every 20p deposit – a DRS will make many peoples’ lives harder.
2. Achieve higher recycling rates for glass
Compared to what? The top 4 glass recycling nations in Europe do not have a DRS.
Belgium, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Sweden do not operate a recycling DRS for glass, but instead use a simpler scheme to cover all glass packaging (called EPR). All achieve over 90%, 5% higher than the 2025 targets for glass, metals and plastic set by the Scottish Government. Evidence from our European cousins shows we shouldn’t include glass in a DRS – it’s harder for consumers to handle and return, a real problem for retailers to store, and you can achieve higher recycling rates without it. Most businesses want glass kept out of a DRS, but Governments are not listening.
3. Mean fewer plastic bottles littered every day
Plastic waste is one of the world’s most urgent environmental problems (WHO 2019) yet DRS is likely to increase the use of plastic. Substitution occurs because producers, retailers and consumers want materials that are easy to return and store, and plastic is the lightest, most-compactable and cheapest option (see examples in Germany, Finland and Croatia 2019).
There are issues with the environmental footprint of all materials – but not looking at the bigger picture, particularly in relation to concerns for the increase in plastic usage and the micro plastics they create, is an increasing environmental criticism levelled at campaigners for DRS.
4. Cut CO2 emissions
This is not proven – the UK Government admit in their own public documentation that they cannot quantify the amount of greenhouse gas emissions created by additional consumer journeys (Defra 2019). A DRS will create more road travel and congestion, for consumers seeking to redeem their deposits and waste collectors needing to drive across communities to collect materials from return points. Scotland will have at least 17,000 RVM’s all connected to the power grid, which will need construction, and repairing & replacing every 5-7 years. We don’t yet know how many RVMs the UK will need to order.
5. Force industry to do more!
Wine and spirit merchants have already moved to bulk shipping and lightweighting of bottles, in association with WRAP, over the last 10 years. Businesses accept they need to shoulder all the costs for recycling their packaging and move to a circular economy. But DRS is hugely expensive and doesn’t achieve the best recycling rates compared to other systems – particularly for glass. Governments are opting for DRS at a cost estimated to be over £800m a year – yielding economic benefits of less than £100m (IEA 2019). We should pursue a more cost effective, time efficient system.
What else aren’t you being told?
- We will still have kerbside collections – even after all this multi-million-pound investment glass food jars, cardboards, other plastics and the rest of your unwanted items will need to be put in kerbside recycling bins for councils to collect. The waste in money and consumer time running two simultaneous systems is baffling.
- With deposits applied to every bottle, it comes as no surprise consumers purchase larger formats instead of multipack options under a DRS. A multipack of 24 bottles will cost £4.80 in deposit fees alone.
- Those on lower incomes will disproportionately fund DRS. The poorest in society along with other groups who tend not to have easy access to cars or other transport, are more likely not to redeem their deposits. Government research shows the correlation between higher deprivation and low recycling rates (2015). Research also shows a disproportionate amount of those with long term disabilities (73%) or those aged over 65 years old (76%) supported household collections instead of a deposit return scheme (ACS 2019).
- The UK produces some of the most renowned spirits brands and is the world’s largest exporter of spirits. Clear glass (known as flint) is in high demand for this industry. Representatives of the glass industry worry that moving away from kerbside collections will reduce the purity of flint cullet collections. Defra’s impact assessment proposes all RVMs will compact glass bottles for travel, causing losses in flint glass collected. To be of “re-melt” quality, glass cannot be crushed at source making the storage of returned containers more problematic for retailers and increasing vehicular emissions.
- More worrying still, in countries that introduced DRS, there were glass factory closures as demand for the material declined due to substitution towards plastic and other materials.
- The cost of introducing a nationwide DRS is huge and will be paid for all companies wishing to sell in the UK/Scotland. This expensive policy is likely to deter new business entering the UK market. Due to the huge costs of DRS we are already hearing that many companies are considering removing produce from Scotland before the scheme goes live.
- A DRS puts pressure on retailers particularly around handling and storage costs. All retailers are obligated to accept any in-scope materials and repay the deposits on these items. It is likely DRS will distort the retail market and some retailers will not cope.
The impact of Coronavirus means Britain is now facing its worst recession in 100 years. We argue that the introduction of a costly and ineffective DRS will be an extremely unwelcome and unnecessary additional burden for British consumers and businesses.
We need to recycle and reuse more of our packaging. We need recycling solutions that are cost effective, egalitarian and evidence based, the DRS proposed in Scotland and the UK is none of these.