Bolder bottle return scheme could be worth £2bn, say campaigners

Restricted scheme would have far less benefit to UK economy, government data suggests

Plastic bottles
 The government has committed to introducing a deposit return scheme but has yet to decide on the details. Photograph: Robert Smith/Alamy

A comprehensive deposit return scheme (DRS) for plastic bottles, cans and glass could boost the economy by £2bn, government assessments show, as ministers weigh up which type of system to adopt.

Government data highlighted by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England indicates that a more restricted DRS involving only bottles of 750ml and under would benefit the economy by just £250m.

The campaign group is pressing ministers to adopt a comprehensive scheme when they announce their decision this summer.

CPRE says the economic benefits include a reduction in the amount of waste sent to landfill, fewer littered drinks containers and less of their associated cleanup costs, reduced air and water pollution, and less carbon emissions caused by the extraction and production of raw materials needed to produce new drinks containers.

It says recycling rates in countries that have such a scheme, including Germany and Norway, are much higher.

Maddy Haughton-Boakes, a litter campaigner at CPRE, said: “This is yet more evidence of the positive impact that a deposit return system will have on the whole of society. Taking us towards a circular economy, we will recycle almost all of the drinks cans and bottles we consume, slow down the depletion of scarce resources and reduce carbon emissions, all of which will have a lasting positive impact for our countryside and environment.

“The government has an opportunity to ensure England gets the most effective and economically viable deposit system in the world.”

Last year the government committed to introducing a scheme and the decision on which type is expected in the next few months.

Environmental groups fear ministers are under pressure from industry to restrict the scheme to bottles of 750ml or less that are sold in single units, excluding supermarket-bought multipack bottles and all bottles of more than 750ml.

The British Retail Consortium is pushing the government to delay the scheme, saying it is unrealistic to suggest it could be delivered in two years’ time. It supports a scheme for plastic bottles up to 3 litres, but has told ministers the system must not include glass because it would be too expensive and a health and safety risk.

The BRC questions whether a DRS is needed at all, saying measures that are due to come into force making producers and retailers pay for the cost of recycling collections should begin and be assessed first.

This year the Scottish government announced plans to introduce a deposit return system for glass, plastic, steel and aluminium drinks containers of all sizes.

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