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Deposit-Return Scheme for England, Northern Ireland and Wales in 2025

Deposit-Return Scheme

The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced its plans for a deposit return scheme (DRS) in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The scheme is set to roll out in 2025 with the aim of increasing the rate at which drinks containers are recycled.

It will achieve this aim by requiring consumers to pay a compulsory charge for the containers of the drinks they purchase, which they reclaim when they return the containers using reverse vending machines at designated sites. The scheme will be run by the Deposit Management Organisation, which is yet to be appointed; this will be an independent, industry-led organisation which will set the amount for the refundable deposit and manage the implementation of the program.

In England and Northern Ireland, the charge will apply to plastic bottles as well as steel and aluminium cans. In Wales, it will apply to these same container types but will also include glass bottles; the exclusion of glass from the English and Northern Irish schemes has come under criticism from environmental groups.

Rebecca Pow, the Environment Minister, stated that the DRS would provide “a simple and effective system across the country that helps people reduce litter and recycle more easily, even when on the move.” The government will work with the Devolved Administrations and with the industry itself to implement the scheme, which received a positive response from the public; 83% of respondents were in favour of the new system in the consultation process.

Industry Response

Sian Sutherland, Co-founder of A Plastic Planet, commented that an all-in deposit return scheme across all four nations of the UK is necessary to significantly reduce dependence on natural resources, and criticised the exclusion of glass containers from the DRS in England and Northern Ireland. Wildlife campaigner Dominic Dyer also stated that excluding glass from the scheme would be a disaster for the planet and called for the UK’s scheme to be implemented with glass included in all four nations.

Liz Nieboer, Head of Sustainability and External Affairs at Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I, welcomed the DRS plans, saying it is essential to creating a circular economy for drinks containers and the drinks industry’s net zero roadmap. She emphasized that the systems across the UK need to be 100% interoperable to effectively reduce costs and complexities and promised to continue working with governments and consumers to deliver a circular loop for drinks containers.

Robbie Staniforth, Innovation and Policy Director at Ecosurety, was glad the government had given more detail on the exact nature of the upcoming DRS. He said, ‘We welcome further clarity from government on how their new rules will affect the circulation of packaging in the UK. While unfortunate that the system change is still over two years away, given the scheme has been in design for several years now, it represents a pragmatic approach to the realities of implementing such a major change.

‘How the differing systems across UK nations will work in practice remains to be seen. It is sad to see that the four governments could not get around the table and agree one harmonised system for the sake of UK citizens, not to mention the businesses who will now be dealing with unnecessary extra complexity. However, we look forward to working closely with all stakeholders to ensure this significant change delivers the environmental benefits promised.’

Dusan Stojankic, Vice President of Operations at Coca-Cola in Great Britain & Ireland, said ‘We strongly welcome today’s commitment by the government to introduce DRS in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Coca-Cola has long called for a well-designed DRS that works seamlessly across Great Britain to reduce litter, and enable more packaging to be collected and recycled at the highest quality.

‘The plans outlined by Defra are a step to achieving just that. We’ll continue to work closely with officials, retailers and our peers across the industry to ensure that the scheme is easy for consumers to use, while delivering the best outcome for the environment.’

Let’s Recycle It

At Let’s Recycle It, we of course support the introduction of a deposit-return scheme in the UK; we support any action that is designed to increase the rate at which plastic waste is recycled. There are many examples of other countries that have successfully implemented a DRS for drinks containers and saw a reduction in litter and an increase in the recycling rates. We see no reason why the result would be any different for the UK – provided the scheme was rolled out and managed properly.

We do think there may be cause for concern that each of the four UK nations will have its own different system in place, and that this may cause inefficiency within the whole process. However, provided that interoperability is prioritised during the designing and actioning of the DRS, and that the industry itself is part of that process, then we have faith it will be a positive move for sustainability in the UK and a big step towards a circular economy.

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