A deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers, covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is set to be introduced in 2025, following “extensive work” with industry to prepare for the necessary changes, the UK Government has announced.
The DRS aims to ensure 85% fewer drinks containers are discarded as litter after three years following its launch.
New plans set out in a consultation response, published today (20 January 2023), details that, through small cash deposits placed on single-use drinks containers, people “will likely” be incentivised to recycle their drinks bottles and cans, reducing litter and plastic pollution, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says.
Unlike Wales and Scotland’s equivalent schemes, England and NI are excluding glass from their DRS.
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “We want to support people who want to do the right thing to help stop damaging plastics polluting our green spaces or floating in our oceans and rivers. That is why we are moving ahead using our powers from our landmark Environment Act to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers.
“This will provide a simple and effective system across the country that helps people reduce litter and recycle more easily, even when on the move.”
The scheme would include special machines, known as reverse vending machines, and designated sites where people can return their bottles and receive their cash back. In most cases it would be the retailers who sell drinks covered by the scheme who would host a return point, Defra says.
We strongly welcome today’s commitment by the Government to introduce Deposit Return Schemes.
Following today’s announcement, Defra says its focus will now turn to bringing forward legislation and beginning the appointment process of the Deposit Management Organisation (DMO) – an independent, industry-led organisation, which will be established to run the scheme. Defra hopes to appoint a DMO by Spring 2024.
The DMO will set the amount for the refundable deposit and retailers will be able to apply for an exemption from operating a return point through the DMO, which will also set the criteria for an exemption.
Defra also hasn’t confirmed whether VAT will be charged on deposits. Discussions are being led by the Treasury, which is working with Defra.
An impact assessment for the policy is due later this year, which includes the impact the DRS will have on local authorities. This includes the cost savings of the policy, as well as the lost revenue on containers local authorities currently collect.
Responses to the consultation on the scheme suggest 83% of respondents were in favour of the new system. A target is also in place to collect over 85% of returnable drinks containers once the scheme is up and running.
“A pragmatic approach”
Dusan Stojankic, VP of Operations at Coca-Cola in Great Britain & Ireland, said: “We strongly welcome today’s commitment by the Government to introduce Deposit Return Schemes in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Coca-Cola has long called for a well-designed Deposit Return Scheme 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.”
Commenting on the Defra announcement, Robbie Staniforth, Innovation and Policy Director at Ecosurety, said: “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 on one harmonised system for the sake of UK citizens, not to mention the businesses who will now be dealing with unnecessary extra complexity.”
It is also obviously nonsense to have a less ambitious DRS in England than in Wales or Scotland.
Responding to the news, City to Sea’s Policy Manager, Steve Hynd, commented: “There is a pattern emerging in this government’s approach of delays, half-measures, and broken promises. Their Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) is running years late, will reportedly only include some containers, and, crucially, breaks their own manifesto promises.
“In the face of the overlapping plastic and climate crisis we simply can afford such reckless dillydallying. The evidence base on this issue is clear. We need an ‘all in’ deposit return scheme that will incentivise refill and reuse over recycling. This isn’t pie-in-the-sky thinking. Other countries already have this.
“It is also obviously nonsense to have a less ambitious DRS in England than in Wales or Scotland. This decision further challenges the functionality of our internal markets and risks further constitutional unease just because Westminster doesn’t have half the ambition levels of the devolved administrations.”
CIWM expresses concern over government’s response to DRS consultation
CIWM’s Policy & External Affairs Director, Lee Marshall, said: “Whilst CIWM support the concept in principal, we are still of the opinion that the scheme should wait until both national packaging EPR and Consistent Collections in England have been fully implemented.
“In pressing ahead, we are at risk of introducing a scheme that could be very costly and might not have been needed if the desired outcomes from consistency and EPR are realised.
“While CIWM can see the merits of excluding glass from a DRS, the fact this has not been applied across all nations means that there will be inconsistencies introduced at a time when we are trying to make collections more consistent.
“CIWM is dismayed with the proposed method of payment to local authorities for DRS material that ends up in their management. The overwhelming response back to government was that redeeming deposits was not workable, and so our local authority members will be disappointed with this development.
CIWM is dismayed with the proposed method of payment to local authorities for DRS material that ends up in their management.
CIWM has also urged government to resolve the issue of VAT on the deposit as a matter of urgency so that all involved have a “clear way forward” on the finances involved in the scheme.
“CIWM also query the ambition of the timetable for the introduction of the DRS. With little over 12 months between the DMO being appointed and the scheme due to go live, there is a concern that the mobilisation period is too tight and puts too much pressure on the IT and take back systems.
“While supporting the principles of DRS, CIWM still believes that the research to back up the claimed reductions in littering is still not as full as it could be.
“CIWM is also concerned that the carbon impacts of a DRS based on return vending machines was not fully explored as part of the previous impact assessment and therefore the lack of a digital DRS solution, despite the positive findings from the trials in Wales, could be an opportunity missed.”