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15 Feb 2023

Making the introduction of the deposit return scheme a success in the UK

Making the introduction of the deposit return scheme a success in the UK

Gavin Partington, Director General of the British Soft Drinks Association, on the upcoming introduction of a deposit return scheme in the UK and how it might contribute to a more circular economy. 

The UK Government recently confirmed its intention to introduce a deposit return scheme (DRS) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The scheme, which will capture can and PET drinks containers, is expected to go live in 2025 and will follow on from the DRS due to be introduced in Scotland this summer.

Readers of a certain age will have déjà vu at the prospect of a DRS. There was a time when soft drinks sold in glass bottles by the ‘Pop Man’ could be washed out and returned for money. The going rate in the 1920s was ha’penny per bottle. By the 1980s, it was 10p for every glass bottle returned, with Corona the brand that springs to mind. It was around this time, however, that the trend started to die out. Partly as consumer behaviour changed with the growth of supermarket shopping but also as packaging developed, leading to increased use of cans and plastic bottles.

The soft drinks sector welcomes the move to create a new DRS. We believe the scheme will help consumers play their part in the circular economy by ensuring the containers they buy are returned for recycling. By linking the final part of the consumer experience with the first part of the supply chain, and through successful engagement from Industry and the government with consumers, we can all play our part in reusing valuable materials and improving the environment.

However, the journey from here to the go-live date won’t be plain sailing. As we see it, there are several hurdles to clear in order to make the DRS a success. Firstly, whilst this is an environmental scheme, it needs to be treated as more than just a mere anti-littering initiative if we are to unlock its true potential. If designed properly, the DRS can successfully kickstart the UK’s circular economy for packaging, giving producers access to high quality recycled materials and creating vital investment in UK recycling facilities, potentially delivering new jobs. It’s vital, though, that the scheme functions alongside other ongoing packaging measures including the Plastic Packaging Tax, Extended Producer Responsibility, and consistent household collections.

Another hurdle on the path to success is that the DRS needs to be interoperable throughout England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, which is launching its own scheme in August 2023. A lack of alignment across DRS systems will create unnecessary barriers to UK markets, potentially impacting consumer choice (and undermining the abovementioned efforts to kickstart the UK’s circular economy). This matter needs to be sorted sooner rather than later and hopefully the UK Government committing to plans to deliver a DRS is the first step on that journey.

We look forward to working with the UK Government and others to help solve the outstanding problems and ensure we get a DRS that does what it sets out to achieve. The days of the ‘Pop Man’ might be long gone, but this modern take on a classic idea has the capacity to help us transition to a circular economy, reusing materials and helping to stem the tide of waste.



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