New data: Over 8 billion drinks bottles and cans wasted in the UK in 2019

17 March 2021

    • CPRE, the countryside charity, Greenpeace and Reloop have longed called for an all-in deposit return scheme for drinks containers
    • Per capita in the UK, an estimated 126 empty containers are wasted per year

Figures obtained today by Greenpeace and CPRE, the countryside charity show that over 8 billion drinks containers were wasted across the UK in 2019. Made from glass, PET plastic, metal cans, and board, they are all materials expected to be covered by the deposit return scheme proposed by the UK and Welsh governments and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

‘Wasted’ containers are those landfilled, incinerated, or lost into the UK’s terrestrial and marine environments, representing significant costs that are deliberately avoided by drinks producers and placed onto our environment and local councils instead.

40% of this wastage is of PET bottles, just under 33% is cans and 18% is glass. Per capita in the UK, an estimated 126 empty containers are wasted per year.

For comparison, Germany, which has an efficient deposit return scheme which includes both single-use and refillable containers, sees an annual per capita wastage figure of just over 21 units.

This figure is part of analysis completed by Reloop, an international non-profit organisation that brings together industry, government and NGOs to bring about positive change at all levels of resource and waste policy.

Samantha Harding, Executive Director of Reloop, said:

‘The staggering scale of wasted drinks cans and bottles in the UK should provide clarity for UK governments as they prepare to consult for a final time on the confirmed deposit return system. They must keep focused on their shared ambition to eliminate wastage by introducing legislation and regulation that allows for the best possible design, one that prioritises convenience for consumers and sets an effective deposit level. Whilst some sectors continue to call for delays to this crucial policy, our analysis shows that there’s no longer any time to waste.’

Tom Fyans, Director of Campaigns and Policy at CPRE, the countryside charity, said:

‘Litter left in our countryside, streets, parks and rivers isn’t just an eyesore – it can be extremely harmful to wildlife and nature, and it costs taxpayers millions of pounds in clean-up costs every year. This huge statistic of over 8 billion wasted containers is awful, but it’s also not surprising given government action to tackle our throwaway culture is so long overdue.

‘CPRE has long been calling for an ‘all-in’ deposit return scheme, which would be a simple and effective way of drastically reducing litter. The small deposit acts as a financial incentive to make sure rubbish ends up where it belongs, and valuable materials are properly recycled. The government must prioritise action on this by implementing an ‘all-in’ deposit system as soon as possible and by no later than 2023.’

Sam Chetan-Welsh, Political Campaigner at Greenpeace, said:

‘These figures show that every delay to the introduction of a deposit return scheme means billions more drinks bottles getting dumped or burned. The government must deliver an ‘all-in’ deposit return system by 2023, covering drinks packaging of all sizes and made from all materials, including glass and metal.

‘Other countries have had successful systems operating for years, so if the UK government delays deposit return, it would raise serious questions about their claims of being a ‘world leader’ on plastic pollution.’

For further information, case studies or to interview a spokesperson, please contact: Jessica Rowley, CPRE Brand Media Relations Lead, jessr@cpre.org.uk, 07474 891 023

Notes to editors

The beverage sales data used for this analysis was bought on licence by Reloop from market research consultancy GlobalData. National recycling statistics were used to estimate wasted containers in 2019.

The data for recycling comes from:
PET plastic:
ICIS and Petcore Europe Annual Survey on the European PET Recycle Industry 2017
Glass:
FEVE recycling data 2016, 2017, 2018
Board:
Eunomia: Recycling of composite packaging – beverage cartons, paper