UK tackles recycling with proposed deposit return scheme

28 March 2018 14:56 Source:ICIS News

LONDON (ICIS)--The UK government is proposing a deposit return scheme on bottles and cans, it announced on Wednesday.

“UK consumers go through an estimated 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year, but more than three billion are incinerated, sent to landfill or left to pollute our streets, countryside and marine environment," a statement on its official website read.

"To tackle this blight, the government has confirmed it will introduce a deposit return scheme in England for single use drinks containers (whether plastic, glass or metal), subject to consultation later this year.”

The proposal is subject to consultation later in 2018, but were it to go ahead, customers would pay an add-on for single-use glass and plastic bottles, as well as steel and aluminium cans. The extra cost would then be reimbursed on return of the used packaging.

The plastic packaging industry has grappled with a flow of negative press, and agrees that efficient recycling would help the environment as well as help improve its public  image.

Details concerning who will be responsible for the cost of implementing the return deposit scheme, which works well in other countries, such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Germany, have not been revealed.

“The system has been working [well] for years. We are so trained now,” an industry source based in Germany said recently.

Around a 10 euro cent deposit seems to be the norm in some European countries, but it is the cost of setting up a system up, installing machines, collecting bottles and other factors that could put pressure on product prices.

“It is crazy, inefficient [economically] and for the environmental benefit only. Actually, you can’t even say there was a lot of litter, because people were collecting [the bottles and cans] and putting it [them] in the rubbish,” an industry source in Lithuania said.

Initially, two or three years ago, there was a cost of 2.5 euro cents per item, and now that has risen to around 5 euro cents for each bottle. “Bottlers have to cover the cost of the system,” the source added.

Some recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET) market participants argue that the system would help halt the recent declining quality of post-consumer (PET) bottle bales.

Recyclers said that they are finding a greater mix of other products in the post-consumer PET bottle bales they are purchasing.

A poorer standard of bales would lead to less recycled product or yield after the reprocessing of post-consumer PET bottles.

“The density of the bottles is getting less. When you calculate, in the past we had maybe…75% yield,” said a recycler earlier this week.

“And nowadays it is maybe 70% or 65%. So, that…for the recycler, it is really not easy…so we hope that one day we have a deposit system…in the UK and France and in Italy and maybe in Spain,” it said.

“Because that will relax the situation totally and improve the sourcing,” it added.

There are arguments that the scheme would not suit all countries with Philippe Diercxsens, an executive at French food and drinks major Danone, saying in mid-March that the advantages and disadvantages of a system had to be examined first.

However, the packaging and environment manager did add that post-consumer PET bottle collection rates are not high enough around the world to fully support a circular economy.

The UK government has been pushed to promote recycling before by industry insiders especially as the nation's infrastructure has a reputation among participants of being substandard when it comes to collecting consumed material.

Coca-Cola said in a statement that it wants to play a positive role in ensuring that all of its packaging is recovered so that more is recycled and none of it is littered.

“As we said more than a year ago, we believe that a well-designed deposit return scheme can have a positive impact on recycling rates. We look forward to working closely with the Government and other like-minded companies to develop a system that significantly improves recycling rates in a way that works for consumers, local authorities and businesses.”

The Natural Hydration Council also welcomed the announcement as a positive step to tackling the environmental impact caused by used packaging.

“While a properly considered deposit return scheme could form part of a suite of measures to tackle this issue, we do not believe that any one intervention on its own will provide an effective solution,” the non-profit organisation cautioned.

The findings of its ongoing initiative “The Future of Plastic Packaging” will be shared with the UK and devolved Governments  in due course.

The Natural Hydration Council is supported by its members, who are all producers of naturally sourced bottled water.

Today’s announcement from the UK government comes ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April, where member states will gather in London and agree measures to protect the world's oceans.

PET is used in fibres for clothing, containers and bottles for liquids and foods, thermoforming for manufacturing, and in combination with glass fibre for engineering resins.

Additional reporting by Pavle Popovic

By Caroline Murray