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  1. Analysis
August 5, 2019

Deposit return scheme: How will it be introduced across the UK?

A deposit return scheme (DRS) is a service that allows consumers to recycle drinks and other containers by either placing a monetary deposit upon purchase or receiving cash or other rewards upon recycling. A DRS has already been introduced in Scotland; with the potential to help cut plastic waste, specifically within the drinks sector, Packaging Gateway asks how will a DRS be introduced in the UK.

By Deborah Williams

Current DRS operations

Scotland is the only nation in the UK to run a DRS, and some UK-based companies and events have trialled a DRS to promote sustainability with their company and customer culture.

This year’s Wimbledon Tennis Championship took sustainability to a higher level with its first reverse vending machine for recycling plastic bottles, provided by Norwegian multinational recycling solutions corporation TOMRA.

This summer also saw Norwegian multinational recycling solutions corporation TOMRA partnered with UK retailer Co-op to improve festival sustainability by launching a DRS trial with reverse vending machines at Co-op pop-up stores at seven major UK music festivals.

Last year, Coca-Cola Great Britain and Coca-Cola European Partners, in partnership with Merlin Entertainments, launched a trial of reverse vending machines at UK theme parks.

UK-based restaurant chain Leon partnered with French transnational waste, water and energy management company Veolia to launch a DRS to facilitate on-the-go recycling. The DRS, which was unveiled at King’s Cross in central London, accepted plastic bottles and aluminium cans. For each one deposited, customers are rewarded with a voucher for 10% off their bill at the nearest Leon restaurant.

In the retail sector, UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s launched a reverse vending recycling trial at its Lincoln Superstore in the East Midlands. The retailer later trialled the system at its Braehead Superstore in Glasgow, Scotland.


The DRS opposition

In April this year, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) called for the UK government to scrap its proposed DRS due to high costs in a report by IEA head of lifestyle economics Christopher Snowdon.

The report stated that the running costs of the governments DRS for drinks cans and bottles make it a very expensive way to achieve very little. The scheme has been predicted to cost around £1bn to set up and £814m per year thereafter to collect recyclables worth just £37m.

In addition, last month, according to the Deposit Return Schemes in Action case study by plastics recycling charity RECOUP, if a DRS were introduced in the UK, the collection and recycling of non-drinks packaging would need to be transformed to meet future circular economy goals.


The future of the DRS in the UK

However, a DRS has the potential to keep around 31,000 plastic bottles off Aberdeen’s streets, beaches and green spaces, according to recent figures from environmental body Zero Waste Scotland. In addition to this, around 72% of people would support the introduction of a DRS in the UK, according to a recent survey revealed by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and issued by YouGov.

So far, the UK Government has received 1,180 responses and 207,089 campaign responses for its most recent DRS consultation held earlier this year. It said it will seek to introduce legislation for a DRS for drinks containers in England and Wales via the Environment Bill, which is a part of its 25 Year Environmental Plan.

If a nationwide drinks DRS were to be implemented in the UK, it would include drinks containers, such as glass bottles, plastic bottles and cans.

The Government said that the cost of the deposit would be added to the price of the drinks included in the scheme when they are purchased. The deposit would then be redeemed when consumers return their empty drinks containers to a designated return point.

Further consultations on the proposed idea and model of the DRS are expected to take place in 2020, with the intention to start the scheme no later than 2023.

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