Would you support deposits on drinks cans & bottles?

Reverse vending machine

The Welsh Conservatives and Friends of the Earth Cymru do.

In an unlikely pairing, the Welsh Conservatives and Friends of the Earth Cymru have both recently called for the introduction of compulsory deposits on drinks containers, to reduce litter and increase recycling rates. It would also save a significant amount of CO2  emissions.

Litter and wasted resources

We are all aware of the blight in our towns and countryside caused by discarded plastic bottles and drinks cans, but they also represent a significant waste of resources and energy. Over 3 billion aluminium drinks cans are lost or landfilled every year in the UK. That is, approximately 46,000 tonnes of aluminium, representing 750,000MWh of wasted energy every year. (Read more about aluminium litter and my approach to it on my CanSaveCarbon Blog.)

Neither are plastic bottles carbon free. According to Time for Change, the carbon footprint of plastic (LDPE or PET, poyethylene) is about 6kg CO2 per kg of plastic. This isn’t much less than for aluminium at 9kg CO2 per kg, though recycling aluminium is much more efficient than recycling plastic.

When considering litter, CO2 and precious resources, a deposit return scheme (DRS) on drinks containers makes perfect sense.

Reverse vending machines

Gareth Clubb, Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru and formerly Snowdonia Society Director, says Friends of the Earth Cymru favour a DRS for drinks containers via ‘reverse vending machines’. These could be located in large shops and outlets such as supermarkets and petrol stations and work very well in countries all over the world.

Moreover, nearly 9/10 people support the reintroduction of a DRS on bottles, according to an on-line poll.

In Scotland, Have You Got the Bottle is campaigning for the introduction of a DRS for drinks packaging.

Ironically, this coincides with Irn Bru withdrawing deposits on their glass bottles at the end of 2015. Despite increasing the deposit to 30p per bottle, the redeem rate had fallen significantly since the introduction of doorstep recycling schemes.

Deposits and doorstep recycling

If 30p on a bottle is not a sufficient incentive for householders to return Irn Bru bottles, this suggests doorstep recycling would still be needed. But if the deposit is expected to reduce litter, either as a result of people not dropping it in the first place or others picking it up for the sake of the deposit, what would stop the latter raiding the blue recycling boxes, also for the deposit? Could a DRS realistically exist alongside doorstep recycling schemes?

With councils across Wales and the rest of the UK having invested heavily in doorstep recycling (each in its own local ad hoc way, eg Cyngor Gwynedd’s new ‘Cartgylchu’), policy makers might be reluctant to support a system that would undermine such investment.

A UK wide strategy needed

On the face of it deposits on drinks cans and bottles makes perfect sense, but closer inspection raises the question of how they would work when operating alongside existing recycling schemes. I wonder, do the places where reverse vending machines work well not have widespread doorstep recycling?

If anyone has considered this and has a solution, please let me know. Because with bottles and cans being discarded at the rate they are, DRSs must have a role to play. Maybe the answer is a long-term DRS plan for the whole of the UK to work towards instead of endlessly re-inventing multi-coloured boxes, green bins and other ad hoc local measures.

And don’t forget to donate or  sponsor me on my CanSaveCarbon challenge to pick up and recycle 2,000 discarded drinks cans, thus saving 270kg CO2! All proceeds to the Snowdonia Society.

CanSaveCarbon blog


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