Industry is trying to stop Deposit Refund Schemes

Sue Kinsey By: Sue Kinsey
Date posted: 1 August 2018

Despite growing public and political support for the introduction of a Deposit Refund System, or Deposit Return Scheme - DRS to you and me - for drinks containers across the UK, there has been a slow but steady drip feed of negative stories. Some are supposedly in support of DRS, but all advocate either restricting any system, or giving reasons why systems won’t work here or aren’t needed. Coincidence? I don’t think so! There seems to be a concerted attempt by certain elements of the plastics and packaging industries and their allies to derail DRS in the UK before it even comes into force. Let’s take a closer look at a few of their favourite ‘arguments’

DRS Penguin

We support a DRS system, but only for ‘on the go’ containers, or ones below a certain size. Are you kidding me?! A child could see a way round this one; set a size limit, and all companies have to do to be outside the system is to change the size of their container. This has actually happened in other countries such as Germany where deposit system applies to containers up to 3l in size – there, some companies have manufactured bottle of 3.1l and even 3.001l to escape the system. In the Netherlands, bottles of 500ml and above are included so there are now bottles of 499ml on the market. The same goes for limiting a DRS to certain materials only - this would just encourage a shift to containers not included in the system.

We are worried about the effects on Local Authorities. Really?! This is one non-story that they really won’t let go of, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary that a DRS actually decreases Local Authority costs and reduces litter. I am sure it is just coincidence that in a proper scheme it is the producers who would pick up the costs for proper collection /disposal and recycling of their products rather than tax payers, as is the case presently. They would also seem to be implying that the main reason for your local council to collect items such as cans and plastic bottles for recycling is so that they can make money from them – the logical conclusion of this argument is that it would be great if we all consumed more and more so that LAs could make a bit more cash, forgetting that the first thing we should be looking for is to reduce consumption overall.

DRS in use

It wouldn’t work here, the British public is different, (to everywhere else apparently) wouldn’t understand it, wouldn’t do it – how patronising, rude, breathtakingly arrogant and an insult to the intelligence of the GB population. There is no evidence to support these statements and all public polls have shown overwhelming support for DRS and indeed all systems that reduce litter. A Yougov poll for MCS showed that 73% of people were in favour of deposit refund systems for drinks containers.

All we need to do is to increase kerbside recycling – an oldie but goldie for these guys and one of their favourite arguments. Of course, again, this would mean that taxpayers pick up the bill for the collection and disposal of their products. It also flies in the face of all evidence. Recycling rates in the UK have stagnated and have done so for the past few years despite efforts to try and increase kerbside rates – we seem to have reached ‘peak’ kerbside and must look at other ways to increase the capture and recycling of these items. Recyclers themselves have bemoaned the poor quality of product coming from kerbside collections. A DRS would give a steady supply of clean, uncontaminated product straight to the recyclers. Ironically, at the moment, some producers are importing recyclate from countries like Norway (which has a deposit refund system!) as the quality of recycled material collected in the UK is so poor.

The fact is, last year, during our Great British Beach Clean, over 19,000 items of drinks litter were found making up 8% of total litter and accounting for 56 items of litter for every 100m surveyed over one weekend in September. A DRS would clearly help to decrease the number of drinks containers left on our beaches, streets and parks. This would also have the advantage of reducing street and beach cleaning costs for cash strapped Local Authorities.

To conclude, it seems we are seeing the last desperate attempts of a certain section of these industries to get out of paying anything like what they should for the collection and disposal of their products. UK producers are sitting pretty in the situation of only paying for about 10% of those costs compared to some of our European neighbours who pay up to 90% – no wonder they don’t want the system to change. They know that the introduction of DRS could be the thin edge of a wedge when it comes to bringing in a proper extended producer responsibility system, where the producers in this country truly pay for the recovery and recycling of their products.

There have been a lot of warm words over the past few years from these industries about being ‘part of the solution.’ However, if you examine this closely, it mainly means advocating for behaviour change on the part of the consumer with no thought of reducing production or changing their own behaviour. They are desperate to prove that the problem is irresponsible behaviour on our part rather than over production and over packaging on theirs. With plastic production on the increase, this is not an industry looking to downsize in any way, any time soon. In fact its survival rests on producing and selling us more and more items that we don’t really need and that constantly need replacing.

I’m going to finish with a plea to the plastics and drinks industries - stop trying to evade your responsibilities and stop pushing for a system that you hope will fail and actually step up to the plate and do something wholly positive for the environment and not just for your bottom line. If you spend as much time, effort and money into making a system for the UK work as you do in trying to stop one happening we could have the best system in the world