Government announces plans for drinks bottle and can deposit scheme

Gudrun Cartwright, Environment Director at Business in the Community comments on today's announcement that a deposit-return scheme is to be introduced. The scheme is expected to cover single-use glass and plastic bottles, and steel and aluminium cans.

The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has announced a proposal to introduce a deposit-return scheme for drinks bottles and cans, in order to increase recycling and reduce waste. The scheme will cover single-use plastic and glass bottles and steel and aluminium cans, and consumers who return their containers will get part of their money back.

Solving the challenge of plastic pollution is critical and urgent.  Over recent months public awareness of the harm that plastic waste can cause has boomed, leading to demands for action from business and Government. In the UK, the need is made even more urgent by China’s decision to stop accepting materials for reprocessing, which means we have an additional 100,000 tonnes of paper and plastic waste to be processed each month.

“Businesses are taking the challenge seriously, with many making commitments to act, needing to create concrete plans to deliver. The landscape is complex, as plastic underpins all areas of our modern lifestyles and no clear, simple solution exists. Consequently, businesses want to know where to best invest time and resource to achieve rapid impact at scale.  However, we know that by combining many existing technologies with new innovations, we can develop more circular ways to meet our needs in ways that create value for people and nature. 

“It is also clear that plastic pollution shines a spotlight on a range of systemic challenges that need to be addressed to create a more co-ordinated approach to keeping the value of waste circulating in the system.  We were delighted to take a group of business leaders to James Cropper in the Lake District on Monday to see one of these solutions for ourselves and to explore the main barriers and opportunities to enabling businesses and households to do more.  We were honoured that HRH The Prince of Wales and Michael Gove, Defra Secretary of State were able to join us to hear our conclusions and welcome the launch of this consultation today.  We will be sharing the outcomes of these discussions shortly.

One of the most important actions that we need to take is to create markets for recycled plastics and we are seeing businesses leading the way here through voluntary commitments. For example, Unilever has committed to ensuring that all of its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 as it called on the entire fast-moving consumer goods industry to accelerate progress towards the circular economy. We look forward to seeing how the reform of the PRN system can help incentivise similar initiatives at scale. 

We are at a moment in time when there is a huge opportunity to tackle this challenge, with commitments from business, Government and households.  This creates an exciting potential for significant, coordinated, collaborative investment to grow our research and innovation base to develop and deploy innovative packaging technologies. Driving innovation is absolutely essential. We need to make sure that the multiple efforts are coordinated and that sufficient funding is made available to support the business community to come together and innovate - across sectors and along supply chains. Collaboration is key - this is an issue which affects everyone - from designers to end consumers.  Business in the Community and our members welcome these developments and look forward to playing our part in the collaborative solutions that will help us to make real progress.