A deposit scheme for drinks bottles and cans would cost little to set up and generate most of the income needed to support itself, according to research for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).1
Bottle deposits are a campaign issue for the CPRE because it thinks they will cut litter. The idea also chimes with the governments programme which included promises to cut litter and use reward schemes to encourage recycling (ENDS Report 424, p 5).
The question of reintroducing deposit schemes recurs regularly (ENDS Reports 351, p 25, and 338, p 42). Opinions are polarised between campaigners and packaging firms and retailers. The last government considered the idea in 2009, but ruled it out on the basis of research by consultants ERM (ENDS Report 408, pp 18-19). But Eunomia, the consultancy that conducted the research for CPRE, says this work was flawed.
The deposit system proposed by Eunomia would cover glass and plastic bottles, and drinks cans. There would be a 15p deposit for containers smaller than 0.5 litres, with 30p above that. Items could be taken back to shops or put in reverse vending machines, which have been trialled by Tesco.
Extrapolation from schemes in other countries suggests deposits would lead to the return of about 90% of bottles. The UK collected 45% of plastic bottles in 2009. Over 70% of homes had kerbside collections.
Eunomia only looked at single-use bottles and cans rather than refillable ones like glass milk bottles. “The market for refillables in the UK is much smaller than for non-refillables and there will typically already be systems of collection,” it says.
Deposits would be paid in and out of a central body. Eunomia estimates unclaimed deposits would provide £491m a year, 70% of the system’s running costs. The rest would be met by drinks firms. The cost of introducing a scheme is put at £84m.
The usual objection to deposit schemes is that they undermine household recycling. However, Eunomia says there is little evidence to justify these fears and in fact the opposite is true. Cuts in the volume of recyclate collected and the need for sorting and litter clearance would save councils up to £159m a year, it says. Firms would save another £47m through reduced waste management bills, and packaging firms would benefit from lower costs of compliance with their producer responsibility targets.
Adding the environmental impacts of extra recycling into the equation is assumed to bring another £69m in benefits.
Whether the overall benefits outweigh the costs depends 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.
The Industry Council for Packaging & the Environment (INCPEN) said CPRE’s proposal would make little difference to littering and efforts should be concentrated more broadly across all litter types. Bottles and cans make up less than 1% of UK litter items, but only if you count items such as cigarette butts individually.