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Denmark got it right

Experts on deposit return scheme: UK should follow best-in-class Danish model
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Denmark got it right

Yesterday (04 June), some 25 experts urged the government to introduce a deposit return scheme (DRS) that mirrors Denmark’s system for returning drinks containers.

The experts believe Denmark’s scheme, which uses a variable deposit model inclusive of all materials including glass, plastic and aluminium, will best tackle the UK’s waste crisis. 

Writing in an open letter, cross-party politicians, NGOs and academics pointed to Denmark’s high redemption rates for drinks containers, and said the UK’s DRS should follow the same model.

Deposits for drinks containers

A DRS scheme sees consumers pay a deposit on drinks containers that can be redeemed once the container is returned.  

The government is currently consulting on the design of a nationwide DRS, with the scheme set to be introduced across England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2024.

The brainchild of environment campaign group Nature 2030, the letter highlights the extremely high redemption rate – as high as 93% – for drinks containers in Denmark. 

Denmark’s scheme implements a variable fee based on the size and material of different containers. 

In Copenhagen a shopper purchasing a small plastic bottle of cola pays a higher deposit than a consumer purchasing a small glass bottle of the same drink; for plastic bottles of one-litre or over, the deposit value is three times higher. 

As a result, consumers are more inclined to return them to redeem their deposit, and also look to avoid materials that are most culpable for exacerbating pollution – such as single-use plastic containers.

Our £1bn per year litter habit

Those supporting the letter believe following this model will be critical if the UK is to stop its growing waste crisis and dramatically increase its recycling rates.

More than two million pieces of litter are dropped in the UK every day, and it’s estimated that British taxpayers pay more than £1 billion per year to clean Britain’s streets.

According to the government, current recycling rates for drinks containers are estimated to be 70%, leaving around 4 billion plastic bottles and 1.5 billion glass bottles unprocessed each year in the UK.

In comparison, Denmark reportedly recycles some 92% of all bottles and cans, largely due to the success of its collection model.

Public demand for a DRS

The letter comes after polling last year found 84% of the UK public believe all drinks containers should be included in the government’s proposed scheme.  
If the government listens to public demand, this will see the inclusion of drinks containers made from glass, plastic and aluminium. 

The letter has gained cross-party political support including from Conservative MP and former Minister of State for International Development, Sir Desmond Swayne; former leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas MP and former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and Labour MP John McDonell. 

Author and ocean advocate Dee Caffari MBE; City to Sea founder and CEO Natalie Fee and Nadine Jenkins of the UK Green Building Council also signed the letter.

Academics supporting the calls include Professor Paul Ekins, UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources; Professor Ben Croxford, UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering and Dr Mike Allen, Associate Professor, University of Exeter.

A ready-made roadmap

Supporters believe that with Denmark’s a track record in fine-tuning its own DRS scheme to be as effective as possible, the UK has a ready-made roadmap to follow when implementing its own.
The letter reads: ‘The most successful long-standing deposit return schemes in the world are to be found in Scandinavia. Deposit return schemes in Denmark date back to 1922 and have been improving ever since.

‘Today the Danish scheme sees consumers return 93 percent of the drinks containers they buy to a collection point for recycling – one of the highest deposit redemption rates in the world.’

The letter continues: ‘If the Government is serious about tackling the plastic crisis it must urgently introduce legislation for a deposit return scheme for drinks in which the deposit varies based on the size and material of the container. The Government cannot afford to get this wrong.’

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