Campaign to Protect Rural England Standing up for your countryside

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Litter Photo: © Huguette Roe/Shutterstock


CPRE’s main concern with litter is its impact on the beauty and quality of the countryside. Littered items are often brightly-coloured, non-degradable and toxic. They spoil the view, pollute the land and endanger wildlife. And they are often made from valuable materials that could be recycled such as glass, aluminium and plastic – all of which are wasted when left as litter.

CPRE and litter

Campaigning against litter was one of CPRE’s early priorities; our work began in 1927, supporting a range of local and national campaigns. This work led us to be instrumental in the creation of the Keep Britain Tidy group in 1955 and our most recent national campaign, Stop the Drop, ran from 2008 to 2015. We launched our Litter Programme in January 2016, with activities including campaigning and lobbying, a pilot project looking at legislation and systems design, as well as collaborative work with our branch network across England and a wide range of charity and corporate partners.

We want to see:

  • a strong legal framework that is used consistently by local councils, to stop littering being a consequence-free crime;
  • a National Litter Action Plan that coordinates the activities of every organisation that works to reduce litter, in order to increase efficiency and save money;
  • solutions that change people’s behaviour by putting a value on resources, such as charges on carrier bags and returnable deposits paid on drinks containers;
  • better design of products and packaging, such as attaching lids to bottles and providing disposal papers with chewing gum, to reduce the chances of them being littered.


The issues:

shutterstock plastic bags blown from landfill 900x600

Litter is spoiling the countryside

Litter levels in England have remained broadly stable over the past decade, according to the official monitoring undertaken on behalf of the Government. However, this neither provides good news nor a clear picture of why the problem is so endemic and extensive.


Volunteers picking waste 223x149px

Our campaign successes

CPRE has a long record of community engagement and action to tackle litter. Our work began in 1927, supporting a range of local and national campaigns.


plastic bottle beach litter copyright maudanros Shutterstock 223x149px

Have we got the bottle?

Our research for a deposit return system (DRS) for drinks containers covering glass bottles, plastic bottles and cans shows how a scheme would realistically work in the UK, and how benficial it could be. Find out more in our summary report.


Plastic bottle in the woods

Beat the bottle

Many countries and provinces around the world have found the best way to capture drinks containers is by having a deposit return system (DRS) - CPRE litter programme director, Sam Harding, makes the case for England to be next on that list.


Plastic and deposit return systems - CPRE timeline

Plastic and deposit return systems - CPRE timeline

A look back at CPRE's 10 year campaign for a UK deposit return system for drinks containers


Bill Bryson, CPRE president, launches CPRE’s Stop the Drop campaign against litter and fly-tipping, which included a call for ‘action to introduce a nationwide deposit system for drinks containers’ that ‘would reward the public for returning used drinks containers, boost recycling and reduce litter.’

A poll commissioned by CPRE demonstrated overwhelming public support for the return of bottle deposit systems. 82% of those polled by Ipsos MORI said they would support a scheme where at least 5p was included in the price of every drink container, with that deposit paid back to the consumer when the container was returned for recycling. Four in five of those polled said they would support a scheme whereby 10p was included. Nine out of 10 people in favour of the scheme also thought the deposit would have an impact on reducing litter dropped on the street.

These results come as the Government published research into the case for container deposit schemes in the UK, commissioned in response to CPRE’s call for a fresh look at the issue. 


David Cameron pledges to look into CPRE’s proposals for a deposit return system after being asked about CPRE’s September research report at Prime Minister’s Questions: ‘Bill Bryson has made this suggestion to me as well because of the success schemes like this have had in other countries. I will certainly ask his honourable friend the Climate Change and Environment Secretary to look at this issue and see if we can take it forward.’

A CPRE report, Have we got the bottle?, commissioned from waste consultants Eunomia, was the first comprehensive research into how a deposit return system could work in the UK. It clearly demonstrated that such a scheme would cost little to set up, would generate revenue to support most of its own running costs and would generate return rates of around 90%. The research showed how the scheme would help the Government achieve a ‘zero waste’ economy by increasing recycling rates, and reducing litter, while reducing costs to the public sector by £160 million per year (or £7 per household).


CPRE research shows that DRS has the potential to raise upwards of £432 million each year for local charities and community initiatives, from donated deposits. 

CPRE criticised the Government’s review of waste policy for missing the opportunity to introduce a deposit return system. Samantha Harding, manager of the CPRE Stop the Drop campaign, said: ‘The Government say they aspire to a zero waste economy yet they appear to be content to allow UK recycling rates to flatline at 40 per cent.  Most importantly for us they do nothing to support an initiative that significantly reduces litter and could deliver 90 per cent recycling rate for drinks containers. The review acknowledges that deposit schemes increase recycling and reduce litter, but it doesn’t have the bottle to support them.’

CPRE publishes a new research report, From Waste to Work, showing that the introduction of a Deposit Return System in the UK could create between 3,000 and 4,300 full-time jobs. The findings were launched by waste consultants Eunomia at the TUC Climate Change Conference on What makes a good green government? 


CPRE coordinates the launch of the UK Deposit Alliance at the British Library, where speakers from across Europe highlighted how putting a small deposit on drinks containers increases recycling revenue and quality, creates jobs and eradicates litter. 


The Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland published polling showing nearly 80% of the Scottish public would support a deposit return system. In September, they launch the Have You Got the Bottle? campaign for a Scottish DRS, with support from CPRE.

Scotland’s Environment Secretary, Richard Lochhead, calls on his Westminster counterpart, Liz Truss, to introduce a UK-wide DRS.

A 5p charge on plastic bags comes into force after a three-year campaign led by CPRE, as part of the Break the Bag Habit coalition, to help raise awareness of plastic litter. As well as reducing the number of plastic bags handed out by over 7 billion in its first six months (leading to a long-term reduction of 80%), the popularity of the charge helped add weight to other financial incentives to reduce waste, with public support for the charge rising to 70% by May 2016.

The Welsh Assembly debated the possibility of introducing a Deposit Return System in Wales after the Welsh Conservatives announced that they would introduce a pilot system.


The Marine Conservation Society call for the introduction of DRS after a record amount of litter was found on UK beaches in 2015 – the number of plastic bottles on beaches having increased by over 43% since 2014.

In her maiden speech as CPRE President, Emma Bridgewater says: ‘I'd like to jump in here to say that I want to throw my weight behind the CPRE litter campaign, by emphasising the huge plastic waste generated by water bottles. It is clear that deposit return systems have worked effectively in other countries, so I believe that governments in the UK should introduce deposit return schemes for bottles ( and cans!) as soon as possible.’

Emma Bridgewater uses a Mail on Sunday interview to reiterate her call for a deposit return system, revealing ‘a pet hate of mine – the discarded plastic bottles, whether in hedgerows or bobbing in ponds and lakes.’

Research from Cardiff University showed that that 90% of shoppers were taking their own bags shopping, suggesting genuine behavioural change and the potential for a financial incentive on drinks containers. Professor Wouter Poortinga said the research ‘suggests that other similar policies could be successfully implemented, such as a deposit return scheme on plastic bottles’.

CPRE president Emma Bridgewater appeared on BBC Breakfast to make the case for a deposit return system, and was filmed visiting a bottle recycling plant. 

Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas MP tables an Early Day Motion calling for the introduction of DRS.


Sky News launches its #OceanRescue campaign against single-use plastics. Richard Branson uses the platform to argue that a deposit return scheme is ‘a fantastic idea, and one that should be encouraged.’ Also speaking on a deposit return system, The Prince of Wales told Sky News that ‘it always seems extraordinary to me we don’t take these sorts of initiatives which can make a dramatic difference.’

CPRE welcomes the news that waste giant Suez UK have come out in favour of deposit return systems, while Coca-Cola announced a change its global position by deciding to support DRS in Scotland.

Following strong lobbying from CPRE, the UK Government launches a National Litter Strategy including a pledge to investigate deposit return systems. CPRE were leading members of Defra’s Litter Strategy Advisory Group and successfully proposed the creation of a Voluntary and Economic Incentives Working Group, going on to provide the secretariat for that group from October 2017.

CPRE welcomes the Scottish Government’s announcement that it will introduce a Deposit Return System. Samantha Harding comments: ‘This is a momentous step towards a cleaner environment, whether countryside, beach or high street. Deposit return systems are easy to use and recapture valuable materials. There is little doubt the system will prove a triumph in Scotland, and it paves the way for the rest of the UK.’

CPRE is part of a consortium of organisations who publish research showing that DRS could save local authorities across England a combined total of £35m a year. At the Conservative Party Conference, Environment secretary Michael Gove says: ‘we are looking to go further to reduce plastic waste by working with industry to see how we could introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles.’

CPRE commends Iceland and the Co-op for their commercial and environmental leadership in supporting a UK deposit return system.

After receiving written and oral evidence from CPRE and others, the Environmental Audit Committee recommends that the UK Government should introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, to help increase recycling and curb the devastation caused by plastic waste. The committee also calls for an increase in the number of public water fountains to reduce the number of plastic bottles consumed.


The Times reported that the Voluntary and Economic Incentives Working Group was due to report to ministers in February ‘saying that a deposit return scheme (DRS) would result in far higher recovery of used bottles and cans as well as reducing litter and improving the quality of material sent for recycling.’

DRS: the campaign:

DRS – the past can become the future

DRS – the past can become the future

Littered drinks containers are everywhere, so we need to do everything we can to capture them. Many households and businesses do their bit to recycle but many containers end up in landfill, or – worse - lying bright, ugly and poisonous across our countryside, coastlines, roads, parks and rivers.

So, how can we tackle the problem?

Deposit return systems

Many countries and provinces around the world have found the best way to capture drinks containers is by having a deposit return system (DRS). The scheme is simple: when you buy a drink, you pay a small deposit (10-20p) and then when you return the container to one of the hundreds of return points, you get your deposit back. You may recall a similar initiative for glass bottles some years back.

Does it work?

Thanks to the monetary incentive, such schemes wield an unrivalled return rate of between 70-98.5%, with an associated reduction in other container litter of up to 80%.

Plus, we’ve already seen what a relatively small economic incentive can do here in England – the 5p charge on plastic bags has led to an 80%+ drop in usage since it came into effect in 2015.

Further benefits

Over the past 10 years we have explored the costs and benefits of DRS in depth.  Our research, alongside evidence from around the world, shows that DRS is the most effective way to capture every can and bottle for recycling into other cans and bottles.

And because people are incentivised by the deposit they’ve paid to return over 90%+ of all the containers sold, the chances of so many being littered in the countryside and other places is greatly reduced.

What’s more, besides the huge increase in recycling and the reduction in litter, there are other benefits to consider...

Our research showed that a UK-wide DRS would create up to 4,000 new jobs in the recycling industry and over 20 pieces of research, including three from the UK, show that whenever a DRS is introduced, local councils save money, as it reduces their burden of having to deal with so much of our waste.

It’s also worth noting that the introduction of DRS in England would come at zero cost to you (the taxpayer) – the system would pay for itself.

Support for DRS

The success of deposit return systems in boosting recycling and reducing litter overseas has not gone unnoticed and we’ve seen much high-profile support here, particularly over the past 12 months.

  • Suez UK – part of a major global waste giant– came out in favour of DRS, saying that it would be a ‘win win’ for the environment and the economy.
  • Many retailers are behind the scheme, from the largest – Tesco – to those on our high streets - Iceland and Co-op – to the smallest – including the National Federation of Retail Newsagents.
  • One of the core recommendations in Sky PLC’s #OceanRescue campaign is a UK-wide deposit return system for plastic bottles.
  • Other NGO’s have got behind the idea in recent years and are helping to push it forward, such as Greenpeace and Keep Britain Tidy.
  • The Scottish Government have announced plans for a national system and development is underway.
  • A petition hosted by Surfers Against Sewage and 38 Degrees was delivered to No.10 with over 250,000 signatures
  • The Government’s Environmental Audit Committee’s recent inquiry into drinks containers and coffee cups highlighted the urgent need for a UK DRS and a similar economic incentive for coffee cups.

Who are we up against?

Traditionally, the major opponents of DRS was the beverage industry. However, Coca-Cola announced last year that it would support a well-designed DRS in Scotland – a huge step forward.

This change of position has exposed that really the only opponents of DRS left are packaging companies, their trade associations and some companies that are well-paid to manage business-level recycling schemes. This is understandable, as of course they don’t want to lose income, but there’s no reason why the environment should pay to keep their profits up.

The ‘polluter pays’

Currently, litter costs us nearly a billion pounds every year to clear up – using money from the pockets of the taxpayer. But DRS would ensure that the cost of dealing with drinks containers is met by those who produce them, and those who litter them, using what’s known as the ‘polluter pays’ principle. The scheme is paid for by the producers of the containers and those who don’t dispose of them properly – in other words, if the container is thrown away, the deposit is unclaimed, so it stays within the system and helps to fund it.


CPRE's work into littered drinks containers spans as far back as the 1940s, and we have been calling for a deposit return system in the UK for the past 10 years.

Take a look at our campaign timeline

Ultimately, all the evidence points to the introduction of a deposit refund scheme as a positive step in reducing the problem of glass, aluminium and plastic drinks containers. And we hope you’re behind us as we continue our campaign for a scheme in England.

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