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UK Deposit Return Schemes Could Slash Marine Litter by 60%, But Political Will Is Lacking

Image Credit: Biz Journals

Bottle deposit schemes just got a major boost, thanks to a new analysis issued by thinktank Green Alliance. Communicated via an infographic, the analysis suggests that introducing deposit return schemes on plastic bottles would be the single most effective action to accelerate progress. The concept has been a hot topic in the UK over the last year, as the Government searches for ways to curb the country’s considerable plastic waste problem.

According to Green Alliance, plastic bottles account for approximately 33 percent of global marine plastic waste and introducing a 5–20p charge on drink containers at the point of sale, which can later be redeemed when to an authorized center or the original seller could virtually eliminate beverage litter. In Germany, where a similar scheme is in place, nearly 100 percent of plastic bottles are returned for recycling, compared to only 57 percent in the UK.

A deposit scheme could help the UK reduce its plastic waste by one-third, but that’s just the beginning. Paired with other measures, such as expanding the ban on microbeads to include all products, enforcing existing maritime waste bans and upgrading waste water treatment plants with sand filters, reductions could be doubled.  

“It’s depressing to visit a beach that is covered with plastic and downright scary to learn that the seafood you are eating might be contaminated by plastic pollution,” said Dustin Benton, Acting Policy Director of Green Alliance. “The popularity of the microbeads ban and plastic bag charge shows the public is up for tackling these problems. The government should listen, introduce a bottle deposit scheme and enforce rules on sources of industrial waste. These simple steps would address two-thirds of the UK’s marine plastic problem.”

View the full infographic

Beverage giant Coca-Cola, which recently unveiled an ambitious sustainable packaging strategy in Great Britain, has been vocal about its support for deposit return schemes, having joined the World Wildlife Fund, the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland and the Marine Conservation Society earlier this year in urging the Scottish government to establish a pilot program to increase recycling. According to consumer polling conducted by the company, approximately 63 percent of consumers support the idea of a deposit return scheme, with 51 percent saying that they believe such a program would boost recycling.

But despite consumer and private sector buy-in and the availability of necessary technologies, government has been slow on the uptake, placing more focus on alternatives such as full-on bans of plastic bottles or installing water refill stations. According to Norwegian solutions provider and reverse vending expert TOMRA, delayed action boils down to a lack of political desire.  

“It is a pure political process,” Stefan Ranstrand, the company’s CEO, said in an exclusive interview with edie. “You need a highly engaged political sphere that is focusing on the environmental matters. There’s a lot of promotion on litter in the UK, there are too many educated people who actually care for the environment for this to be ignored much longer.”

“All the technologies are available; they are there and there is no longer a technological hurdle. It is purely a political desire to create the circular economy and take responsibility for the waste that is being generated.”

Beyond reducing plastic waste, the UK also stands to reap a number of benefits from the roll out of deposit schemes, which include job creation and an additional £1.2 billion for the economy.

“If the UK was to have the ambition to reuse all of its plastic waste, it would create new companies and new green jobs to transform and create new products, from clothing to manufacturers,” Ranstrand added. “With reverse vending, you can act on three parameters of reducing litter, enabling closed-loop recycling and enabling consumers to contribute to the environment.”

Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]

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