Analysis: In our throwaway society, can people be persuaded to collect empty bottles again?

A A A

Michael Heseltine was just one among generations of schoolchildren who used to supplement their pocket-money by collecting and re-selling empty bottles of pop.

The man who went on to be Deputy Prime Minister and amass a £220m fortune first revealed his entrepreneurial streak as a pupil at Shrewsbury School in the 1940s. He would prowl its grounds looking for discarded bottles, which he would return to a nearby shop to reclaim the tuppence deposit on each.

Bottle deposit schemes began to vanish in the 1960s when more and more soft drinks were sold in plastic containers. This meant batches of drinks – in plastic and glass containers – could be shipped greater distances from centralised factories. And it became less practical to take an empty back to a shop, which once would have returned it to a bottling plant.

Moreover, changing trends meant people were visiting supermarkets rather than the corner shop to which they could bring back the bottles.

Now, the Environment minister Michael Meacher has asked officials to look at the pros and cons of the Government throwing its weight behind a revival of the schemes.

When they first began to disappear, there was uproar from members of the public, many of whom had developed frugal habits in the years after the war.

Four days after the launch of Friends of the Earth in 1971, the environmental group organised its first publicity stunt by collecting thousands of "non-returnable" bottles and dumping them at Schweppes' headquarters in London with a plea to the drinks giant not to "schhhhh on Britain".

The campaign failed but, 30 years later and with six billion glass containers produced every year in Britain, deposit bottles could make an unexpected return.

This is the latest government investigation into ways of reducing the mass of domestic waste being tipped into a limited number of landfill sites. Ideas floating around in Whitehall include making shoppers pay 9p for every plastic bag they use and charging families £1 for every sack of rubbish they leave for collection.

As ministers admit, all such moves require a cultural shift among British consumers, many of whom are now inured to a "throwaway society".

Some deposit schemes do survive, notably in Scotland where many Irn-Bru drinkers are refunded 20p a bottle when they return their empties. But such initiatives are the exception rather than the rule.

Mr Meacher's civil servants will be examining the experiences of countries including Denmark, which has banned one-trip beer containers. However, they may also consider New York City, where the Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has abandoned the system of repaying the five-cent deposit on bottles and cans returned for recycling because of the falling price of glass.

In Britain, advocates of the deposit idea say that it is the most environmentally friendly way of recycling some of the 15kg of glass used by each person in a year. They argue that washing and refilling bottles consumes far less energy than recycling glass.

But critics retort that the same problems that sealed the fate of deposit bottles 30 years ago also apply in the 21st-century. They also say the amount of money that could be offered for returning bottles would be too small to encourage affluent consumers to change their habits.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
news
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
Brendan Rodgers looks on from the touchline
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick