Bottle deposit schemes or reverse vending, presents a useful tool in helping to battle plastic in our seas. By incentivising recycling through our wallets, it can really help nudge individuals to make a difference by recycling more. So why are’nt seeing this in use everywhere?
How a deposit scheme works
Let’s say you are buying drink that comes in a plastic bottle. Included in the price will be an additional small charge (for instance, 20p), that counts as your “deposit”. Once finished, if you bring back that empty bottle back to the retailer, you can deposit it to be recycled and get that small charge refunded.
This can be done for a variety of different recyclable materials, including cans, glass, and the scourge of our oceans, plastic bottles!
Many countries round the world have implemented this successfully, including Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands. In these countries, bottle deposit schemes have been celebrated at drastically reducing littering and landfill waste. In Norway, it has seen immense success, where the return rate for plastic bottles and cans was as high as 92.3% in 2021!
Despite these success stories, some countries still do not have a bottle deposit option in place. This includes the UK, which is slowly still discussing when to implement such a scheme (now pushed back to 2025!). This delay is a wasted opportunity, some figures suggest UK consumers go through an estimated 13bn plastic drinks bottles a year! Sadly, only 7.5bn are recycled. The remaining 5.5bn end up heading to towards the landfill, our countryside or worse, our seas.
What are the advantages?
When working effectively, the advantages are obvious. More recycling means less waste in landfill, bins, streets, hedgerows and oceans. The financial incentive for individuals to recycle, appears to be a great driver to getting people to change their behaviour and make a difference.
Also, the increased initial charge may make people question whether they need to buy the item in the first place. Instead ‘nudging’ them to use a re-usable bottles filled with something from home! Result!
Increased recycling also means valuable resources which make these products can re-enter the production chain. This reduces our reliance on using virgin raw materials to make plastic, glass and aluminium. Sustainable jobs in the waste and recycling industries are also created. People need to be employed to organise, distribute, and manage this waste.
Using less plastic which ends up in our oceans can only be a good thing. Plastic bottles are incredibly damaging for marine life, taking decades to break down in our oceans. The toxic chemicals they release harms or kills marine life.
What’s the hold up?
The naysayers argue, consumers might object to the initial deposit charge. This however can be earned back through proper recycling. Others complain, it will be inconvenient to return recyclable bottles or cans to a collection point, especially in remote areas.
To be effective, the deposit return scheme requires a large initial investment to be made by governments, businesses, and recycling organisations. It needs proper planning and structure with broad coverage of deposit points to make it convenient for the consumer. These hurdles have allowed organisations to lobby against the scheme, in order to avoid the financial commitment needed to make it success. They are ignoring the fact, that in a circular economy, these costs can be recouped through the increase in quality recyclable material collected.
The lessening of litter also means, less ecological damage to the planet from plastic waste.
In the meantime, we must keep reducing our commitment to disposable plastics, and recycling wherever possible. Only then will we be able to reverse the tide in the battle to prevent plastic pollution!