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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.

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.

© Campaign to Protect Rural England, 5-11 Lavington Street, London, SE1 0NZ | Tel: 020 7981 2800 | Email: |

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