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Deposit Return Scheme Blog

26th July 2018

Martin Hyde

The Comply Direct Deposit Return Scheme blog brings the latest news and discussions regarding the development of Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) throughout the UK.

Martin Hyde, our Policy Researcher, has a keen interest in the future of the UK's recycling system both personally and professionally, so developed this blog to share his expert knowledge and passion. 

An up-to-date review of all things Deposit Return Schemes 

Posted: 26 July 2018

Deposit Return Schemes – have we made any progress?

Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) have received a lot of public support recently, after all who wouldn’t want to receive a reward for properly recycling their waste?

However, there are continued concerns from the waste industry that we may be letting the euphoria of the previous DRS for glass bottles cloud our judgement.

Legislation and a governmental review of DRS is likely to come with the Waste and Resources Strategy published later this year. With ministers meeting earlier this month to discuss the future of DRS, now planned for introduction in 2020, the debate continues as to whether or not the Schemes should be government or industry led.

Are big brands leading the way?

Several large retailers and brands have backed the idea of a cost-effective DRS, including:

  • Tesco
  • Coca Cola
  • Morrisons

This supermarket chain have piloted a deposit return scheme at two of its UK stores, including one just down the road from Comply Direct in Skipton (seen here). The scheme is being operated by reverse vending machines which offer Morrisons customers reward points in exchange for bottle returns.

Coca Cola
The company has been investing heavily in their environmental objectives over the last few years, and as well as various projects and investments around recycling, yesterday (25 July) they announced a DRS partnership with Merlin Entertainment Parks.

The partnership will see reverse vending machines installed at Merlin attraction parks; customers have been invited to bring along 500ml bottles and will receive an instant reward in the form of a 50% entry discount to Merlin attractions.

This scheme will be running as a trial through the Summer and should help to minimise litter as well as allow Coca Cola to collect a highly sorted stream of their own waste packaging.

Do we really need it?

There is still a lot of doubt around the effectiveness of DRS. Although the major focus on packaging has been around plastic, aluminium cans have also been suggested as worthy of a DRS.

Alupro (The Aluminium Packaging Recycling Organisation) have recently published some very positive recycling figures for Aluminium packaging, which they believe shows that a DRS for cans will not be necessary.

Where are we now?

With a packaging regulations reform on the horizon, there are still questions around the role of Local Authorities in DRS.

There are concerns that if the waste collected belongs to the retailer running the DRS, then large quantities of highly sorted, valuable plastic waste will be removed from the household waste stream significantly limiting Local authority waste revenue.

There are unfortunately still many questions to be answered;

  • What will the cost be?
  • Who will own the waste?
  • Who will run the scheme?
  • Will there be clear legislation?

Although we don’t currently know the answer to these questions, it is really encouraging to see some progress being made by brands to test out DRS.

We will continue to keep you up-to-date on packaging related news, but should you have any questions please feel free to get in touch.

Consultation Released for Deposit Return Scheme in Scotland

Posted: 28 June 2018

On 27 June, the Scottish Government launched a consultation regarding implementing a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) to gain the public's views on how the scheme could work successfully. Back in September 2017, Scotland announced their plans to introduce a DRS and spearheaded the initiative which has subsequently been rolled out in the rest of the UK. See our blog post dated 6 September 2017 below for more details about Scotland's initial announcement. 

Zero Waste Scotland were commissioned by the Scottish Government to create example options which illustrate how the scheme could work, as well as to enhance public understanding and allow people to select the best option for them. Considering the significance of ensuring the public understand how a DRS could affect Scotland and consumers personally, Zero Waste Scotland are hosting multiple public engagement events in the run up to the consultation deadline, to educate and promote the importance of having a say.

An outline of each example option is as follows:

1. Take back to Designated Drop-off Points: This would involve containers being taken back to a number of large, dedicated locations, rather than there being lots of smaller return points in shops and public places. 

2. Take back to dedicated drop-off points and some shops (with cartons and cups included): This is a similar system to Example 1 but it would have more return points, as some shops may also have to have deposit return points where there isn’t a recycling point style dedicated drop-off point nearby. It would also collect HDPE, which is the kind of plastic that milk bottles are made of and cartons and cups.

3. Take back to any place of purchase: This would mean you would be able to take your drinks containers back to any retailer that sells drinks in disposable containers. 

4. Take back to any place of purchase (with cartons and cups): This is similar to Example 3, where you would be able to take your drinks containers back to any shop that sells drinks in disposable containers. The difference is that Example 4 would collect a wider range of drinks containers and would be jointly run by a public body and the drinks/retail industry. 

Examples 1 and 2 are linked, as are examples 3 and 4; essentially a development upon the earlier number. You can access full details about each option and how they would potentially work in the official public consultation document HERE (please see pages 46 - 67 for the example options). 

The consultation closes on 25 September 2018 and if you'd like to have your say, you can do so by submitting a response on the government website here: https://consult.gov.scot/environment-forestry/deposit-return-scheme/consultation/

Comply Direct will be submitting a response to this consultation, as Scotland are part of the UK and we feel it important to contribute to the development of recycling in our member state. 

Deposit Return Scheme in the UK confirmed for single-use drinks 

Posted: 28 March 2018

Today (28 March 2018) it has been announced that the decision has been made by Environment Secretary Michael Gove to implement a deposit return scheme (DRS) for single-use drinks bottles and cans. The scheme will cover plastic bottles, glass bottles and steel/aluminium cans, and aims to increase the UK's recycling levels and mitigate waste, particularly plastic. Michael Gove said; 

"We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use, and now we want to take action on plastic bottles to help clean up our oceans"

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-43563164 

The scheme will mean consumers have to pay an increased price for single-use drinks initially; the result of an additional refundable charge which consumers will recoup if they return the empty drinks container. Full details of the scheme are yet to be confirmed, including the value of the deposit, and are dependent on the results of a formal consultation which will be announced by Michael Gove.

Environmental campaigners are extremely pleased about the deposit return scheme reveal and have expressed that it is a significant turning point in the fight against the drinks container litter destroying the UK's natural environment. On the other hand, understandably Councils will be concerned that the scheme could undermine kerbside recycling.

However, focusing on the bigger picture, other countries such as Norway who already operate a DRS achieve considerably higher rates of recycling than the UK. It is estimated that less than 60% of of plastic bottles are recycled in the UK, out of the approximated 35 million sold each day. Therefore, it is vital that this is improved upon and a deposit return scheme is likely to be the mechanism to significantly make this happen.

There are still quite a few questions to be answered regarding the scheme's implementation in the UK, including what measurable effect will this actually have on the UK recycling rate? And, could the scheme effect producer responsibility regulations? The consultation will likely address these areas and we will communicate more details about this when it is formally released. 

Coffey investigates deposit return scheme in Norway

Posted: 29 January 2018 

A Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks containers is becoming increasingly favoured in the UK, particularly as it wasn't completely ruled out within the recent 25-Year Environment Plan and due to the Environment Audit Committee wanting to introduce the scheme. There are 40 countries and 21 US states with a DRS already in place and Norway claim their scheme is the “the world’s best deposit system”. Following recycling minister Therese Coffey's visit in December 2017 to a recycling centre in Norway run by a not-for-profit company who also operate Norway's DRS, said company are now backing the UK to be capable of implementing a similar scheme. 

Throughout this visit, Coffey was introduced to Norway's Desposit Return Scheme system and was given a tour of the recycling and production department. In addition, Coffey was shown a DRS vending machine working in a shop and the functionality of this.  

Generally, countries with a DRS in place for plastic bottles manage to achieve impressive recycling rates of around 80 – 95%. This very much supports reasoning for introducing a deposit system in the UK and considering the fact Coffey has started looking at other schemes, it seems a DRS may be a consideration for the UK looking ahead to the future. We will provide updates on this as and when further information is released. 

England begin to consider a Deposit Return Scheme

Posted: 2 October 2017

The Scottish and Welsh governments are already considering deposit return schemes, and on Monday 2 October at the Conservative Party conference, Michael Gove the Environment Secretary made a statement of intent that he is in favour of implementing some form of deposit return scheme in England.

The working group on recycling is due to consider how such a scheme might work in England and report its findings toward the end of 2017.

Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme

Posted: 6 September 2017

Will Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme work?

In the Government’s Program for Scotland published on 5 September, the Scottish government has confirmed its plan to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers. This could have huge implications for Consumers / Retailers and the waste industry alike.

So, what is a Deposit Return Scheme?

Simply put, a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) levies a small deposit on certain products with the money being paid back to the customer on the return of the empty packaging. The concept has been around for many years and many European Countries have active deposit return schemes in place. The UK previously did have a similar system in place for glass bottles, however, the rise of plastics and the lack of incentives for manufacturers to use recycled material, led to the demise of this system in the 1980s.

Research by the Scottish government last year, followed by an opinion poll has helped to support the development of a potential DRS. 78% of people polled in Scotland were in support of a DRS.

How would this work?

Although the key specifics as to how the Scottish system will be run have not yet been released, it is highly likely that when you pay for products in plastic bottled packaging, a small deposit fee will be pre-calculated into the cost of the item (however this could also be charged separately). Upon return of the empty containers, a ticket will likely be generated offering store credit (or potentially just cash) in the shop you return the bottles to.

In the Netherlands, this works by a fixed levy per bottle type (e.g. €0.25 for a plastic soda bottle and €0.10 for a glass beer bottle). Supermarkets such as Albert Heijn (the largest Dutch supermarket chain) have automatic counting machines which you place the bottles into before a store credit receipt is calculated. As no receipt is necessary when the empty packaging is provided, you can return friends’ and neighbours’ waste as well.

What are the benefits?

Deposit Return Schemes can be a great way to minimise littering and boost recycling levels as customers make a financial investment in the product's packaging. By offering people a financial reward for properly disposing of their waste, more people are likely to separate and return plastic containers.

Is there a down side?

As with all potential waste legislation, there are varying opinions on the sustainability and effectiveness of Deposit Return Schemes. Whilst there are a lot of positive sides to a DRS, there are some negatives:

  • Cost – assuming that the collection of returned plastic bottles would sit with the retailers, there would likely be an associated cost with this as well as the implementation of a system to return the deposit funds to the customer. Whilst retailers were quick and keen to pick up the recent 5p bag charge for plastic, a DRS may have a significantly larger financial cost. It is worth mentioning that there are ongoing discussions as to whether or not small organisations should be included in the Scottish system
  • Waste Quality – a successful deposit return scheme would likely lead to the removal of plastic containers from the household waste stream (bin collections) this could lead to effective “cherry picking”, whereby retailers are in possession of well sorted, high-quality plastic waste. The removal of plastic bottles from the household waste stream could affect the profitability of waste management contracts with local authorities.

Is it the best system?

There is currently not a huge amount of research available into the effectiveness of Deposit Return Schemes in boosting recycling rates and minimising littering. The main issue is that Extended Producer Responsibility – moving the cost of the treatment of waste after discard onto the producer may be a more effective method. Plastic bottles currently make up around 11% of household waste by item and 22% by weight, would a DRS be able to provide much of a boost to the overall recycling rate?

How does this sit within the Producer Responsibility Regulations?

Within the packaging regulations, there are provisions for “closed loop” packaging, but this is meant solely for long term transit packaging and long-life packaging such as pallets, beer kegs etc. There is a specific mention of “returned packaging” in the EA’s most recent “agreed positions and technical interpretations” document stating that returned packaging may not be discounted from the overall obligation.

The potential introduction of a DRS does raise the question, should plastic bottles returned to the retailer via a DRS be subtracted from the retailer’s selling obligation?

It is likely that the EA will have to look into this if a DRS is introduced.

What does this mean for the rest of the UK?

With the development of a Circular Economy Package on the horizon, it is possible that a successful DRS in Scotland could lead to a roll out for the rest of the UK, however there has been growing concern at the diversion of high-value waste materials away from the kerbside waste stream and the impact this could have on the waste industry. The question that will be asked of the government is “Is a DRS the most efficient and cost-effective method of boosting recycling?”.

A link to the 2017-18 programme for Scotland can be found below, the Deposit Return scheme is mentioned on page 43


In conclusion; this is an area to be watched, there is currently not a huge amount of information available around the exact plan for Scotland’s system and just as sparse information surrounding how effective a Deposit Return Scheme would be. We will continue to keep you up to date on this topic, but if you have any immediate questions please feel free to get in touch with me by email.

In the meantime, should you wish to read more about the Circular Economy then please head over to our blog here or register for our upcoming webinar here.