In Europe, deposits return schemes are enjoying huge success rates when it comes to PET bottle recycling, so why is the UK lagging behind?
A deposit return scheme is a way of encouraging people to recycle their waste by giving a deposit back to them when they return the empty bottle, can, packaging or container. GreenSeas Trust has lobbied for the Deposit return scheme to be adopted for PET plastics beverage bottles.
So what exactly is it?
The system works by the consumers paying a small deposit when buying single-use items drinks/beverage bottles etc.
- The deposit amount per plastic bottles is usually between 9p and 25p
- Once empty, the consumer returns the bottle to a reverse vending machine and gets their deposit back
This scheme has great potential, as proven by success rates in other European countries. And it works cleverly to incentivise recycling – yet still, there’s no sign of them being implemented in the UK any time soon.
Altering mindsets: changing the perception of ‘waste’
One of the great strengths of deposit return schemes is the way they can alter people’s mindsets. Central to their success is the fact that they stop people thinking of single use plastics as ‘waste’ – the scheme assigns them a value, meaning that it’s in our interests to do the right thing and return them for reuse. Essentially, recyclable materials become resources instead of waste – what’s not to like?
How does a deposit return scheme work in practice?
So what happens to containers once they are returned and the deposit has been given back? Reverse vending machines are highly efficient and use advanced sorting technology to separate waste out according to the material. They can also sort materials that might not be recyclable, which reduces the risk of contamination (something that could ultimately lead to recyclable waste being sent to landfill). The containers that have been collected are then ready to be recycled.
Simple enough, right? But does it actually work?
The success of deposit return schemes: let’s look at the figures
According to a leading manufacturer, deposit return schemes can achieve up to a 40% higher collection rate than other recycling methods. That’s huge! This is achieved in two ways: by incentivising recycling, resulting in a higher amount of waste being returned, and by increasing purity, so that more of the waste returned can actually be recycled.
Germany is one of the major success stories here, where a deposit return scheme has been in place since 2003. They’re a part of everyday life and there are more than 40,000 reverse vending machines installed. And with a return rate of 96%, it’s clearly working. This figure is beaten by Norway, where it is 97%! In the UK, it is estimated 57% of the 13 billion plastic bottles we use a year are recycled. In London alone, the average adult buys more than three plastic water bottles every week – a startling 175 bottles every year per person. With a deposit return scheme in place, far more PET bottles could be recycled.
So what’s stopping us in the UK?
The wheels are in motion for a UK deposit return scheme – but it won’t be happening soon enough. Scotland looks set to be the first, with parliament voting in favour for a deposit return scheme for drinks containers. But it won’t be available until the 1st July 2022.
In the rest of the UK, there have been localised efforts to bring deposit return schemes into play. Last year, the Wimbledon Tennis Championship had a reverse vending machine for recycling plastic bottles and various UK festivals installed reverse vending machines at their sites.
The government consulted on the introduction of a deposit return scheme earlier this year, and whilst this is a step in the right direction, it’s too little, too late. We need to be doing more now.
Could deposit return schemes be the solution to our plastic waste?
Deposit return schemes have proved highly successful and there is a lot we can learn from established programmes. It’s difficult to say whether any one action could be the answer to the plastic waste crisis we are facing – however, a scheme that offers an incentive to do the right thing and as such, changes people’s mindsets, would be a very welcome addition.
Continue recycling, lobby local councils, and consider donating money to GreenSeas Trust – we have actively lobbied for deposit return schemes before, and our BinForGreenSeas encourages responsible waste disposal and provides an unmissable visual cue. Learn more about how you can get involved.