Environmentalists blast UK deposit return scheme which does not include glass

Glass bottles will not be included in schemes in England and Northern Ireland, with this leading to concern from environmental campaigners.

Katrine Bussey
Friday 20 January 2023 12:28 GMT
The UK Government has announced plans for a deposit return scheme for cans and bottles – although glass will not be included in schemes in England and Northern Ireland (Jonathan Pow/PA)
The UK Government has announced plans for a deposit return scheme for cans and bottles – although glass will not be included in schemes in England and Northern Ireland (Jonathan Pow/PA)

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Louise Thomas

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The UK Government has announced plans for a deposit return scheme to help consumers “easily” recycle empty drinks cans and bottles.

But the plans, announced by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), have been blasted by some environmental campaigners.

Greenpeace said after “five years of dithering” the UK Government had “bottled it and excluded glass from the scheme” for England and Northern Ireland.

Defra confirmed glass bottles would not be included in deposit return schemes in those countries.

Instead, it said these would be covered by “extended producer responsibility” which will see targets for glass recycling placed on producers in both nations.

Under the UK Government proposals, deposit return schemes will come into place in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2025 – with ministers hoping the change will lead to an 85% reduction in drinks containers being abandoned as litter within three years of that.

Every year, UK consumers go through an estimated 14 billion plastic drinks bottles and nine billion drinks cans, many of which are littered or condemned to landfill.

Deposit return seeks to address this, with  shoppers having to pay a “small cash deposit” when buying a drink in a single use container – such as a can or plastic bottle – with this money returned when people bring back the used containers for recycling.

We urge the UK Government to follow Scotland's lead and to keep up with Wales by committing to deposit return for glass as well as cans and plastic bottles

Dr Kat Jones, APRS director

UK environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “We want to support people who want to do the right thing to help stop damaging plastics polluting our green spaces or floating in our oceans and rivers.”

She added that deposit return would “provide a simple and effective system across the country that helps people reduce litter and recycle more easily, even when on the move”.

Campaigners in Scotland, which is to introduce its own deposit return scheme in August 2023, said the UK scheme failed to go far enough.

In Scotland, glass bottles will also be included in the scheme and Dr Kat Jones, director of the Association for Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS), said not including them in England or Northern Ireland was a “backward step”.

She insisted: “Westminster’s intention to exclude glass from the English system is a backward step, though, given it is the most carbon-intensive material used for drinks, and the most expensive waste for local councils to deal with.

“Excluding glass would also create unnecessary cross-border issues, leading to higher business costs and inconvenience for the public and risking further delays to the English system.

“Once deposit return is launched in Scotland this August, we will see immense reductions in litter.

“We urge the UK Government to follow Scotland’s lead and to keep up with Wales by committing to deposit return for glass as well as cans and plastic bottles.”

Megan Randles, a political campaigner at Greenpeace, said it was “better to have this proposed system rather than nothing”, but added: “In what kind of world is collecting glass drinks containers not an essential part of a system designed to collect drinks containers?

“To be honest, it reeks of corporate lobbying – from the kind of companies who talk big on social responsibility, but do everything they can to push the problems they create onto others.

“If we’re serious about leaving a better natural environment for future generations, kicking the can down the road just doesn’t cut it.”

Surfers Against Sewage also hit out, tweeting: “Not only does gov’s plan for England’s Deposit Return Scheme exclude glass, it won’t be implemented until Oct 2025! And they’re calling that a ‘stretching target’.”

However, Dave Dalton, of British Glass, said it was “absolutely right” not to include glass bottles in the schemes in England and Northern Ireland.

He argued: “We already have a convenient solution to improving glass recycling, and it’s at our doorsteps.”

Mr Dalton said that by using “consistent kerbside collections” alongside a campaign to promote a “better culture of recycling, we can meet the glass industry’s recycling rate target of 90% by 2030”.

Drinks giant Coca-Cola said it “strongly” welcomed the deposit return scheme announced by Defra.

Dusan Stojankic, VP of operations for Great Britain and Ireland, said: “Coca-Cola has long called for a well-designed deposit return Scheme that works seamlessly across Great Britain to reduce litter, and enable more packaging to be collected and recycled at the highest quality.

“The plans outlined by Defra are a step to achieving just that.

“We’ll continue to work closely with officials, retailers and our peers across the industry to ensure that the scheme is easy for consumers to use, while delivering the best outcome for the environment.”

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