Are deposit systems ready for a return?

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

A deposit return system could be introduced for plastic drinks bottles
A deposit return system could be introduced for plastic drinks bottles

Related tags: Recycling

With Coca-Cola GB dropping its opposition to a deposit return system (DRS) and calling for a trial of “a well-designed deposit scheme for drinks containers, starting in Scotland”, where Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) has been consulting on the idea, some are starting to ask whether such a system would boost recycling and reduce littering in the rest of the UK, too.

At the Industry Council for research on Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN), chief executive Jane Bickerstaffe was not convinced that the tide had turned even in Scotland.

“Coca-Cola has said it will consider all options, not that a DRS will work,”​ she said. “ZWS is still collecting evidence on which to base a decision on whether a DRS would be useful or not.”

In 2015, the Eunomia consultancy compiled a report on the feasibility and potential design of a Scottish DRS for ZWS.

‘Highlighted a number of issues’

But Jon Molyneux, head of communications at ZWS, would say only that evidence collected since then “highlighted a number of issues which are subject to further discussions with stakeholders”.

Eunomia cited a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) study from 2005 which included evidence that a DRS could dramatically reduce littering. But DEFRA’s study did not, overall, favour the introduction of a scheme for the UK.

According to Bickerstaffe at INCPEN, “all the evidence”​ suggested that a DRS would have no impact on litter.

She added: “A DRS would undermine the economic basis of kerbside recycling and increase environmental impact, in the form of transport pollution, by adding lorries to the roads.”

There was a slight drop in English household recycling rates in 2015–16. As Eunomia pointed out, this might have more to do with the way statistics are collected than with systemic failures.

Lend credibility to the idea of deposit systems

But could it lend credibility to the idea of deposit systems for the entire UK not just Scotland? The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) declined to comment on this suggestion.

Mark Barthel, formerly a special adviser at WRAP and now partner at sustainability consultancy 3Keel, took a positive view.

“While I was at WRAP, I remember being really impressed with the sophisticated approach that Returpack had to deposit return systems in Sweden, using automated recycling units from Tomra and Siemens,”​ he said.

“These paid consumers their deposits in the form of shopping vouchers, and offered options to consumers to donate their deposit money to charity, as well.”

Most Swedish supermarkets involved in Returpack managed to create a new profit centre from the DRS, he said, despite allocating space, manpower and logistics to the process.

Related topics: Drinks

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1 comment

South Australia leads the way

Posted by Dr Rosemary Stanton,

South Australia has had a deposit system working for 20 years. Their rate of return on drink containers far surpasses that of any other state in Australia - with 75.6% returned. See

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