Time to follow our neighbour

Avatar for Maddy Haughton-Boakes
By Maddy Haughton-Boakes
14th May 2020

On Wednesday 13 May 2020, the Scottish Parliament passed the final piece of legislation required to begin the process of establishing a deposit return system (DRS). For our own campaign for a DRS in England as a crucial and lasting solution to the litter that blights our countryside, this is a big step forward.

With our neighbours across the border leading the way for a system that includes drinks containers of all sizes and materials, the path ahead looks much clearer for us.

After our decade-long campaign, supported by other NGOs, in 2018 the Westminster government announced it would introduce a deposit system following consultation. We’re eagerly awaiting powers to be introduced for the system in the Environment Bill expected during the summer of 2020. The key test will be the scope of the scheme, which we hope will be ‘all-in’, covering all drinks containers – no matter their size or material.

This by no means creates a done deal, given that we know that industry lobbyists continue to try to derail both England and Scotland’s plans in order to shirk responsibility for their waste. But our neighbour’s decision certainly establishes an important precedent in the UK.

From today, the practical side of establishing the system in Scotland can begin, lockdown permitting. Despite a disappointing year’s delay, it’s a remarkable success. The Scottish government has stood firm against industry lobbyists by remaining committed to its intention to go ‘all-in’ and include glass, plastic and metal drinks containers in its scheme.

Changing times

In these times of great uncertainty, one thing many of us can agree on is that we cannot let work to green our lives and the economy fall by the wayside. There’s a risk that hard-fought gains – such as the promise of a DRS – will be watered down in the name of short-sighted cash injections to boost our financial position. And right now, the UK government is at a critical point where pushing ahead with a fully inclusive system would send a strong message about a positive greener future.

'...right now, the UK government is at a critical point where pushing ahead with a fully inclusive system would send a strong message about a positive greener future.'

In response to the economic aftershocks of the coronavirus pandemic, we need a well-designed DRS more than ever. The UK government seems to be edging towards the same, sensible decision as Scotland. Indeed, why wouldn’t they when the government’s own analysis showed that an all-in system could create £2billion for the UK economy through job creation, environmental benefits and cost savings from reduced waste? Whereas the watered-down system, that some parts of the industry have been lobbying for, would create just £250 million.

An all-in DRS would create thousands of jobs in a sustainable and circular industry – exactly what the country needs. The system works by ensuring that producers who make and profit from beverages cover the costs of the recovery and reprocessing (recycling or reusing) of the packaging, and the deposit acts as a financial incentive to prevent littering. This relieves pressure on stretched and underfunded local councils who at present use millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to clear litter and rubbish that producers should be paying for.

This scheme would create an easy way for people to ensure their bottles and cans are recycled and not burnt, discarded or downcycled (recycling a product to something lower-grade). However, when governments cave to industry lobbyists, deposit systems can be designed badly.

We’re urging the UK government not to succumb to industry pressure, but to make the polluter pay and to make a deposit return system a fundamental part of the green and resilient recovery from coronavirus that’s needed. Only then will we be able to begin ridding our countryside of the scourge of litter, especially the many drinks containers that form so much of that scourge.

A volunteer trying out CPRE's portable reverse vending machine
A volunteer trying out CPRE's portable reverse vending machine