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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable