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Government announces new cash incentive system to boost recycling

25 January 2023

A new government initiative will make recycling plastic bottles and drink cans easier for tens of millions of people, from 2025.

New plans set out in a consultation response detail that, through small cash deposits placed on single-use drinks containers, people will likely be incentivised to recycle their drinks bottles and cans, reducing litter and plastic pollution.

The scheme would include special machines, known as reverse vending machines, and designated sites where people can return their bottles and receive their cash back. 

In most cases, it would be the retailers who sell drinks covered by the scheme who would host a return point.
Every year, UK consumers go through an estimated around 14 billion plastic drinks bottles and nine billion drinks cans, many of which are littered or condemned to landfill.

The new scheme, covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is set to be introduced in 2025, following extensive work with industry to prepare for the necessary changes – including setting up infrastructure and amending labelling. 

It aims to ensure 85 percent fewer drinks containers are discarded as litter after three years of its launch.

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.

“That is why we are moving ahead using our powers from our landmark Environment Act to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers.

“This will provide a simple and effective system across the country that helps people reduce litter and recycle more easily, even when on the move.”

The UK Government will work with the Devolved Administrations and industry to press ahead with delivery of the scheme. The response to the consultation, published on 20 January 2023, showed that 83 percent of respondents were in favour of the new system.

International examples show that a deposit return scheme can become a simple part of daily life to make recycling easier, with recycling rates above 90 percent in Germany, Finland and Norway. Current recycling rates for drinks containers in the UK sit at around 70 percent.

A target is in place to collect over 85 percent of returnable drinks containers once the scheme is up and running.

Following today’s announcement, the focus will now turn to bringing forward legislation and beginning the appointment process of the Deposit Management Organisation – an independent, industry-led organisation, which will be established to run the scheme. The Deposit Management Organisation will set the amount for the refundable deposit.

Dusan Stojankic, VP of Operations at Coca-Cola in Great Britain & Ireland, said: “We strongly welcome today’s commitment by the Government to introduce Deposit Return Schemes in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. 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.”

Gavin Partington, Director General of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: “We welcome Defra’s commitment to introducing an all-in can/PET deposit return scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. By kickstarting the UK’s circular economy for drinks containers, the Deposit Return Scheme will help consumers play their part in ensuring the containers they buy are returned for recycling. We look forward to working with officials to help guarantee its success.”

These plans build on efforts to eliminate avoidable plastic waste. Last week, the UK Government announced that a ban on single-use plastic plates, trays, bowls, cutlery, balloon sticks, and expanded and extruded polystyrene food and drinks containers, including cups, will be introduced in England from October 2023.

The Government has already introduced a ban on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products, restrictions on the supply of single-use plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds, and the world-leading Plastic Packaging Tax introduced last year.

Meanwhile, it claims that its single-use plastic barrier charge has successfully cut sales by over 97 percent in the main supermarkets.

Through the Environment Act, the UK Government is bringing in a wide range of further measures to tackle plastic pollution and litter, including:

·    The Extended Producer Responsibility scheme will mean packaging producers will be expected to cover the cost of recycling and disposing of their packaging
·    Plans for Consistent Recycling Collections for every household and business in England will ensure more plastic is recycled
·    Plastic pollution is a global issue and the government is committed to working with international partners to tackle it. As such, the UK supported the ambitious resolution at the United Nations Environment Assembly that kickstarted negotiations for a legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution.


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