Close Menu

UK to add levy on bottles and cans to reduce waste

The UK government is launching a consultation on a deposit scheme that could see a refundable charge added to the cost of single-use glass, plastic, steel and aluminium bottles and cans in an effort to reduce waste and increase recycling.

The deposit charge will apply to single-use glass and plastic bottles, and steel and aluminium cans

In the same way that plastic bags are now subject to a 5p charge, the UK government wants to to add a cost to bottles and cans, which will be refunded to the customer if they are brought back to deposit centre.

It follows an episode of the BBC’s Blue Planet, in which naturalist David Attenborough drove home the devastating impact that plastic was having on our planet with footage of wildlife eating plastic. It predicted that by 2050, there would be more plastic bottles in the sea than fish. 

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said there was no doubt that plastic was “wreaking havoc” on the marine environment with thousands of plastic bottles and cans ending up in rivers, lakes and the sea each year. UK consumers use around 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year but more than three billion are not recycled.

“We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use, and now we want to take action on plastic bottles to help clean up our oceans,” he said.

“We need to see a change in attitudes and behaviour. And the evidence shows that reward and return schemes are a powerful agent of change.”

Possible variants include cash rewards for returning drinks containers without an upfront deposit, a government release announcing the plans stated.
This is often done through a network of ‘reverse vending machines’, where you insert your plastic or glass bottle or can and the machine returns your money,” it added. “Once a bottle is returned, businesses are then responsible for making sure they are effectively recycled – a move that has led to a 97% recycling rate in Germany.”

Similar schemes are already in place in Sweden and Germany, while Scotland launched a consultation to introduce a similar scheme last year.

In Norway, the scheme was was set up by the beverage industry after the government imposed a tax on every un-recycled bottle, installing machines in shops that take in used bottles and cans and give back a coupon to return the deposit, which can vary from 8p in Sweden to 22p in Germany. 
The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) welcomed talks on the scheme, and how it might affect the drinks trade going forward.

We will continue to work with the Government to look at the details of any new deposits legislation to make sure that it works for both brewers and small businesses like pubs,” said Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the BBPA. “It is good to see DEFRA acknowledging that the burden on the hospitality sector must be carefully considered in designing any new scheme.

“It is also good to see DEFRA promising to work with the Scottish Government on a single UK scheme. Whilst the UK does not begin from the same starting position as Scandinavia, most of their deposit schemes are industry led. It is essential that any mandatory approach does not add significant costs for businesses or consumers. Any new policy must take into account the cost base of pubs, whilst protecting and enhancing the environment in which we all live.”

Likewise, large-scale bottler and distributor Kingsland Drinks welcomed the consultation.

“Kingsland are pleased that the Government has chosen to consult on a Deposit Return Scheme,” said Andy Horrocks, environment manager at Kingsland Drinks Ltd. “The move should see a greater percentage of our glass and plastic bottles returned into the loop for recycling, which will be good for the environment and the longer term supply of high grade cullet.  We look forward to seeing more detail on how the Government proposes to set the scheme up, and how retailers will put this into practice.”
What is clear is that the move can’t fail to be a positive move for the environment, and a step in the right direction in helping to reduce the harmful impact waste, and in particular plastic, can have on the planet.

Sian Sutherland, co-founder of environmental charity A Plastic Planet, added: “This is a great milestone on the journey to a plastic-free future for food and drink. A deposit return scheme is not the final solution to the plastic crisis, however.

“No matter how many times a plastic bottle is re-used or recycled, it will almost always end up in the environment sooner or later. Most plastic can only be recycled several times before it becomes unusable.

“Instead we have to turn off the plastic tap. This means eliminating plastic bottles at the earliest opportunity. Where is the logic in packaging something as fleeting as water in something as indestructible as plastic?” 

Full details of the scheme are subject to consultation, which is yet to launch.

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No