Hidden £1.7bn cost of deposit return schemes

By James Ridler contact

- Last updated on GMT

Snowdon (pictured): 'The most obvious intangible cost is the unpaid labour to make the whole system work'
Snowdon (pictured): 'The most obvious intangible cost is the unpaid labour to make the whole system work'
Deposit return schemes for plastic drinks bottles could cost the UK economy £1.7bn in unpaid labour, outweighing the yearly fee for running the scheme, an industry expert has claimed.

Speaking at the UK Soft Drinks Conference on Wednesday (15 May), Institute of Economic Affairs head of lifestyle economics Christopher Snowdon called into question the intangible cost of introducing a bottle return scheme in the UK.

Snowdon argued that if the Government was going to include the psychological benefit of seeing less litter in the street as a £986m financial gain, then the unseen cost of the public having to go out of their way to participate in the scheme should also be counted.

‘Obvious intangible cost’

“The most obvious intangible cost is the unpaid labour to make the whole system work,”​ he explained. “Every household in Britain is going to have to spend a certain amount of time taking bottles that we would normally put in the recycling – relatively hassle-free – store them at home … take them to the supermarket, wait in line at the deposit machine and redeem your voucher elsewhere.

“There has been no attempt made to evaluate ​[the cost]. I don’t think it would be that difficult – lots of countries have deposit schemes – but if you use a very conservative estimate of five minutes per household per week, and you base the cost on the median wage, you’d be looking at a cost of £1.7bn.”

Snowdon also called into question the Government’s insistence to include larger 3-litre bottles in its deposit return scheme, instead on purely focusing on on-the-go packaging that would more commonly be found as litter in the streets.

Kerbside collections

Commenting on existing schemes worldwide, he added: “There are some countries – like some places in the US for example – which have bottle deposit schemes that have lower recycling rates for single-use plastics than we do, because we have a very good kerbside system.

“I feel that it would probably be better to build on that, rather than layer a complex and very expensive system on top of it.”

Also speaking at the event, Coca-Cola European Partners vice president and general manager Leendert den Hollander described deposit return schemes as a “means to an end” ​to boost recycling in the UK, but not the “holy grail” ​to solve the sustainability problem.

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