Cobham Conservation and Heritage Trust

Please respond to the Government consultation paper on a Deposit Return Scheme

Waste bottles

We would like to encourage readers of this article to respond to a recently published consultation paper, produced by the Government, to encourage consumers' behavioural change as regards recycling drinks containers: a Deposit Return Scheme. If you are already convinced jump down to the bottom and find out what you can do in the Have yout say section

Waste: the need for change

“We are faced with the horrifying offence of pollution (…) Millions of us on this island using non-returnable bottles and indestructible plastic containers. It is not difficult to imagine the mountains of refuse that we will have to deal with somehow"

said Prince Charles in 1970.

Everything changes; nothing changes:

  • As at 2015, humans had generated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics, 6.3 billion tons of which had already become waste. Of that waste total, 91 per cent. has been incinerated or accumulated in landfills or the natural environment (with a miserly 9 per cent. recycled).
  • Coca Cola produces over 100 billion single-use plastic bottles every year whilst it takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to break down completely.
  • 2.5 BILLION disposable cups are thrown into landfill, waterways or streets and parks in the U.K. each YEAR.
  • By 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.
  • Closer to home, between February 2018 and February 2019, 2,380 bags of litter and over 3,200 items of debris had been collected by Connect Plus Services on behalf of Highways England from the small patch of the A3 subject to Connect Plus Services' responsibility.
  • Critically, European figures suggest that only around 37% of the 14 billion plastic bottles (of all shapes and sizes) used in the U.K. each year are actually recycled.

Government proposals: a four point plan

Evidence is irrefutable that the U.K.'s rates of recycling are pitifully low whilst litter blights our urban and rural areas alike with our highways a national embarrassment. Faced with this need to change, but to little fanfare and next to no publicity, the Government released in February 2019 four consultation papers to elicit more responsibility borne by producers as well as behavioural change from consumers:

  1. REFORMING UK PACKAGING PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY which, from 2023, may see the PRODUCERS of WASTE cover the full costs of recycling and collecting it.
  2. A TAX on PRODUCTION of PLASTIC PACKAGING with LESS than 30% RECYCLED content (from 2022).
  3. CONSISTENCY IN HOUSEHOLD AND BUSINESS RECYCLING COLLECTIONS IN ENGLAND to increase quality of and demand for recyclable materials both in the UK and for export.
  4. A DEPOSIT RETURN SCHEME (from 2023).

This note concentrates on the latter Deposit Return Scheme as it directly impacts consumer behavioural change, but at the end of the note are links to the other consultation papers.

The Deposit Return Scheme

You may recall the concept of a deposit return scheme since, up until the 1980s, many glass bottles used to be returned by consumers to retailers in exchange for an initial deposit paid at the point of purchase. And this is essentially what is proposed by the Government. A brief video setting out the concept as it has been applied in Norway can be seen here:

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has proposed a deposit return scheme where a small charge of around 15p would be added to the cost of buying drinks containers, which customers would get back when they recycle them. This is a fantastic opportunity to boost our recycling rates. Countries such as Norway, Germany and the Netherlands that already have schemes like this achieve recycling rates of around or in excess of 95%.

The problem is: not everyone agrees. Industry trade bodies like the British Retail Consortium are lobbying for a watered down scheme which would exclude certain sizes and materials of drinks containers including the exclusion of any bottle which is greater than or equal to 750 ml in volume and milk bottles made from HDPE plastics (an "On-the-go" option). If they get their way, at least six billion plastic bottles (according to the Government's own figures) would be excluded from the deposit return scheme.

"All-in" vs "On-the-go" options

Many campaigners such as Greenpeace and the Campaign to Protect Rural England as well as the Environmental Audit Committee strongly advocate an All-in option to include all bottles. Whilst the set-up and running costs of an All-in option would be more expensive to run, the Government estimates (based on a conservative 85 % recycle rate) that an All-in scheme would have an economic benefit of £9.4 billion in its first ten years (in terms of net material revenue, reduction in disamenity of litter and greenhouse gas emissions savings) whereas the benefit of a limited On-the-go scheme would be just £3 billion over the same period. Furthermore, an On-the-go scheme would entirely miss the point of inducing fundamental behavioural change from consumers. There would be confusion, lack of understanding and more littering (where bottles of the wrong size or material are discarded at the return points or elsewhere).

Whilst an All-in option may be more inconvenient for consumers, that is the point. The benefits of an All-in scheme would mean more bottles and containers are recycled and achieve: 

  • a greater environmental benefit;
  • a greater social benefit;
  • a greater educational benefit; and
  • a greater economic benefit.

Moreover, it is also not difficult to see that, by returning bottles and containers, our high streets and retail would benefit from the increased footfall within cleaner and more attractive settings. Further, it is worth noting that of the many countries in the world which have a deposit return scheme in operation, none have adopted an on-the-go option.

And, please be aware that there would be no need to return a drinks container to the same retailer from where it was bought. Containers will be returnable to any place where drinks are sold and by way of a reverse vending machine or otherwise. Further, the Government is minded to the potential difficulties that infirm, elderly or rural consumers may face and provision will be made to support these sectors.

Have your say

Whilst you can be assured that the British Retail Consortium will certainly respond to the consultation paper, what we need now is for as many businesses and people as possible to add their voices for change - and clear, unambiguous change - and tell Mr Gove just how vital it is that we choose an All-in scheme. Campaigners and I urge everyone to have their say and tell Mr Gove: don’t lose your bottle. Don’t bow to pressure from industry. Deliver an all-inclusive bottle scheme that tackles plastic pollution and protects our oceans: an All-in Scheme.

With time of the essence, you can respond in one of two ways:

Further information

The other three consultation papers referenced can also be accessed via the following links:

Finally, just like a plumber must close the stopcock before tackling the flood so we must change our ways. As David Attenborough said at the recent World Economic Forum, “The one thing we all have to do (…) is simply not to waste. Don’t waste plastic. Don’t waste food. Don’t waste power. Live within our means.”

Although the consultation papers do not close till May 2019, please do respond as soon as possible (if not now). And please share this note: the Six degrees of separation mean that individuals and their actions can change the world.

Please add your voice. There is truly no time to waste.

Laurence Wells
Environment and Conservation



27 Apr
Cobham Farmers Market
27/04/2019 9:30 pm - 10:00 pm

Fresh produce farmers market held in Hollyhedge Road, Cobham, Surrey, KT11 3DG (4th Saturday of each month)

5 May
Cobham Heritage Litter Pick
05/05/2019 2:00 pm

Please join us on Sunday 5th May at 2pm in Cobham at the junction of Church Street and High Street. Bring gloves and we will supply high-viz jackets and litter pickers.

12 May
Cobham Mill Open Day
12/05/2019 2:00 pm - 5:00 pm

The mill is open on the second Sunday of the month from April to October 2pm–5pm. The milling of corn is carried out during these openings, and a short video presentation about the mill and its restoration is shown at intervals.

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