A deposit scheme for drinks bottles and cans would cost little to set up and would generate most of the income needed to support itself, according to research for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).
Bottle deposits are a campaign issue for the CPRE because it thinks they will cut litter. The idea also chimes with government promises on the use of reward schemes to encourage recycling, it says (ENDS Report, July 2010).
The system envisaged by consultancy Eunomia, which conducted the research, would cover glass and plastic bottles, and drinks cans. There would be a 15p deposit for containers smaller than 500ml and 30p above that. Extrapolation from schemes in other countries suggests this level of deposit would lead to around 90% of bottles being returned.
Deposits should be paid in and out of a central body, says Eunomia. Unclaimed deposits would provide £491m a year or 70% of the system’s running costs. The remaining £212 million would be met by drinks manufacturers.
The usual objection to deposit schemes is that they undermine household recycling. However Eunomia believes there is little evidence to justify these fears and in fact the opposite is true. Reductions in the volume of recyclate collected, the need for sorting, and litter clearance would save councils up to £159m a year, it says. Another £47m or so would be saved through reduced waste management bills for companies and lower costs of compliance for packaging firms under the government’s producer responsibility scheme.
Adding the environmental impacts of additional recycling into the equation is assumed to bring another £69m in benefits.
Whether the overall benefits outweigh the costs depends though on the value society assigns to a litter-free environment. The scheme would break even in cost-benefit terms if the average household is willing to pay around £16 a year to see less litter. This figure is substantially lower than some studies suggest, but research in this area has been limited, says Eunomia.
The introduction costs are put at £84m over one or two years.
Views on the reintroduction of deposit schemes tend to be very polarised. Eunomia argues that the government’s dislike of the idea is not supported by published evidence.
Bottles and cans are more prominent than other waste items like cigarette butts and chewing gums but critics also point out that they account for only 0.4% of UK litter items. The Industry Council for Packaging & the Environment (INCPEN) said the CPRE’s proposal would make little difference to the problem and efforts should be concentrated more broadly across all litter types.