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New findings: we EACH waste 126 empty containers a year in the UK

17th March 2021

Alarming new data that CPRE, the countryside charity has worked on with Greenpeace and Reloop shows that over 8 billion drinks containers were wasted across the UK in 2019.

Once again, we’re calling on the government for an all-in deposit return scheme for drinks containers as the data shows that vast numbers made from glass, PET plastic, metal and board are being landfilled, incinerated or littered.

The new data, which looks at the containers used and wasted across the UK in 2019, shows that a move to a deposit return system (DRS), where used containers are returned and a small deposit refunded back to the customer, is more essential than ever.

'Once again, we’re calling on the government for an all-in deposit return scheme for drinks containers.'

Until such a scheme – already widespread in many countries – is in place, the costs of recapturing and recycling these containers are being deliberately avoided by drinks producers and placed onto our environment and local councils instead.

The UK is left behind

In stark contrast to the UK, Germany has an efficient deposit return scheme that includes both single-use and refillable containers – and sees an annual per person wastage figure of just over 21 units against 126 per person in the UK. Of the empty containers wasted in the UK, 40% is of PET (plastic) bottles, just under 33% is cans and 18% is glass.

'Germany sees an annual per person wastage figure of just over 21 units against 126 per person in the UK.'

The data makes for uncomfortable reading – especially when we know how much of these ‘wasted’ and ‘lost’ containers find their way into our environment, including the sea. Others go to landfill or are burned: all terrible news for the planet and for the climate crisis, another area that CPRE is passionate about.

The analysis has been 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.

A UK-wide, all-in DRS: we’re ready

The kinds of containers being wasted are all made from materials expected to be covered by the deposit return scheme proposed by the UK and Welsh governments and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

At present, the UK public is waiting for the governments to confirm the next steps on their commitment to bring in a DRS – and we at CPRE are urging rapid action to move forward on this and limit even more waste being dumped and burned.

Tom Fyans, our director of campaigns and policy, said: ‘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.’

'The government must prioritise action on this.'
Tom Fyans, CPRE campaigns and policy director

CPRE has campaigned against litter almost since its inception in 1926, and has long called for a DRS that is ‘all-in’ – that is, including containers of all kinds. As Tom puts it, this:

‘… 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.’

Other countries are far ahead of us in this. As Sam Chetan-Welsh, political campaigner at Greenpeace, observes, ‘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.’

And Samantha Harding, executive director of Reloop, summarises what needs to happen next as we await news on a new consultation about the topic from the government: ‘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.’

Ready to come all-in with us?

CPRE has been passionate about the subject of plastic waste since the 1960s, and we’re not about to change soon. We’ll keep calling on the government to do better by the environment, nature and the climate and take greater steps to cut out waste.

Want to join in? Sign up now to get our emails with updates about our campaign work and ways to do your bit, or join as a member to keep supporting us from as little as £5 a month.

126 empty containers per person were wasted- burned, littered or binned in the UK in 2019. Jasmin Sessler / Unsplash

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The legacy of Ethel’s vision and determination lives on thanks to the continued efforts of the Friends of the Peak District, and she remains an inspiration to everyone within CPRE