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Bottled it.

‘Five years of wasted action on plastic waste’ – Greenpeace responds to deposit return scheme announcement
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Green beer bottle discarded among dead autumn leaves, littering the forest

Several years since Michael Gove promised to deliver a deposit return scheme to tackle pollution, the government has today (20 Jan) signalled that a scheme is ‘a step closer’ – though it won’t include glass drinks containers.

Keep Britain Tidy, which spent the summer highlighting the dangers of broken and littered glass through its #PainInTheGlass campaign, believes the plans should extend to glass, saying: ‘We are incredibly disappointed that glass, one of the most dangerous forms of litter for people, pets and wildlife, has been excluded. But it’s not too late and we continue to urge the government to think again, to line up alongside Scotland and to introduce a truly comprehensive scheme for the sake of the environment.’

Greenpeace has accused the government of bottling it at the final hurdle, adding the exclusion of glass drinks containers ‘reeks of corporate lobbying’.

‘Five years ago, Greenpeace was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with campaigning groups across the country calling for a deposit return scheme.

‘Five years of wasted action on plastic waste. Five years of dithering and pollution. Five years of lobbying and watering down.

‘This could have been a moment for celebration, and of course for our environment it’s better to have this proposed system rather than nothing. But even at the final hurdle, this government bottled it and excluded glass from the scheme. 

‘In what kind of world is collecting glass drinks containers not an essential part of a system designed to collect drinks containers? To be honest it reeks of corporate lobbying – from the kind of companies who talk big on social responsibility, but do everything they can to push the problems they create onto others.

‘If we’re serious about leaving a better natural environment for future generations, kicking the can down the road just doesn’t cut it.’

Political campaigner at Greenpeace UK

What is a deposit return scheme?

Through small cash deposits placed on single-use drinks containers, people will likely be incentivised to recycle their drinks bottles and cans, reducing litter and plastic pollution.

The scheme would include special machines, known as reverse vending machines, and designated sites where people can return their bottles and receive their cash back.

In most cases it would be the retailers who sell drinks covered by the scheme who would host a return point.

‘Getting plastic bottles and aluminium cans off the ground is a real step forward, but I believe that excluding glass at this time is a tragically missed opportunity.’

Keep Britain Tidy’s chief executive

Focus on plastics

Every year UK consumers go through an estimated around 14 billion plastic drinks bottles and nine billion drinks cans, many of which are littered or condemned to landfill.

The new scheme, covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is set to be introduced in 2025, following work with industry to prepare for the necessary changes – including setting up infrastructure and amending labelling.

The plans, set out in a consultation response announced by Environment Minister Rebecca Pow, should make recycling plastic bottles and drink cans easier for tens of millions of people.

The goal is to ensure 85% fewer drinks containers are discarded as litter after three years of the scheme’s launch.

‘We want to support people who want to do the right thing to help stop damaging plastics polluting our green spaces or floating in our oceans and rivers.

‘That is why we are moving ahead using our powers from our landmark Environment Act to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers.

‘This will provide a simple and effective system across the country that helps people reduce litter and recycle more easily, even when on the move.’

Environment Minister

Tackling plastic pollution

International examples show that a deposit return scheme can become a simple part of daily life to make recycling easier, with recycling rates above 90% in Germany, Finland and Norway.

Current recycling rates for drinks containers in the UK sit at around 70%.

These plans build on efforts to eliminate avoidable plastic waste. Last week the UK government announced that a ban on single-use plastic plates, trays, bowls, cutlery, balloon sticks, expanded and extruded polystyrene food and drinks containers, including cups, will be introduced in England from October 2023.

The UK government has already introduced a ban on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products, restrictions on the supply of single-use plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds and the Plastic Packaging Tax introduced last year.

Through the Environment Act, the UK government is bringing in further measures to tackle plastic pollution and litter, including an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme through which packaging producers will be expected to cover the cost of recycling and disposing of their packaging.

Plans for Consistent Recycling Collections for every household and business in England should also ensure more plastic is recycled.

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