Drinks packaging deposit return proposals probed by industry

The government’s proposed Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks containers is facing fresh scrutiny after glass manufacturers claimed that an improved, consistent kerbside scheme already planned for 2023 is better for the environment than a deposit return scheme.

Elsewhere in the waste industry there have been more calls for a simple system which should be rolled out consistently across the four nations of the UK.

The Environment Act allows the government to introduce a DRS, which will place a small deposit on certain drinks containers that is refunded to the customer when the container is returned at a collection point.

DEFRA says the DRS will incentivise people to recycle billions more plastic bottles and stop them being landfilled, incinerated, or littered. 

However, an independent report published last week by Valpak for British Glass claims that recycling glass packaging through an improved, consistent kerbside scheme already planned for 2023 would be better for the environment than a DRS, and will save more than two million tonnes additional CO₂ by 2035 (11% per annum), as well as achieving a higher collection rate of 90%.

British Glass said that while a DRS works for some packaging materials like plastic and aluminium cans, the best solution for collecting and recycling glass packaging is to collect it all at the kerbside through extended producer responsibility and an improved, consistent kerbside collection programme, which the government is already proposing to introduce.

Dave Dalton, chief executive of British Glass, said: “We already have a convenient solution to improving glass recycling, and it’s at our doorsteps. The British public are already great at recycling their glass at home so instead of including glass packaging in a damaging and complex DRS, we want to see more glass recycled through enhanced household collections under extended producer responsibility and consistent collections – achieving a 90% recycling rate.”

In May, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) criticised the government after it delayed the introduction of a DRS till 2024. The EAC also recommended that the scheme  should be rolled out consistently across the four nations of the UK.

Steven Butts, head of corporate responsibility at Morrisons, also urged the need for “simplicity and uniformity” at an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee meeting this week.

“For the DRS, it would be very helpful if we could have just one system rather than looking at different systems or slightly different systems in devolved nations because ultimately we’re trying to achieve one environmental goal.”

He added that consumers “would not benefit” from a system that is made too complex.

In its annual report published at the end of last month, the waste trade body Environmental Services Association (ESA) said it recognised the potential merits of a DRS in helping to capture additional materials for recycling, but warned that it should avoid disrupting current waste management practices. 

The ESA called for the collection consistency regime to be implemented first, alongside EPR for household and business collections, and to bring in a carefully designed DRS afterwards to complement the rest of the system and target any materials that are “leaking” out of the new process.