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Scottish bottle deposit scheme to be blocked – but evidence from Europe suggests it’s the way forward

Unrecycled drink containers are an enormous downside within the UK. A survey by Planet Patrol, a non-profit organisation, discovered that the drinks business was answerable for greater than a 3rd of the litter discovered within the UK in 2020 and 2021. The objects included plastic and glass bottles, steel drinks cans, single-use cups and lids.

It is a concern. Litter takes years to degrade, inflicting hurt to wildlife and habitats, and cleansing it up is dear. Avenue cleansing prices UK taxpayers an estimated £1 billion every year.

You are reading: Scottish bottle deposit scheme to be blocked – but evidence from Europe suggests it’s the way forward

The Scottish authorities has proposed a deposit return scheme. Individuals pays a 20p deposit after they purchase a drink in a single-use container, which they get again when the empty bottle or can is returned. Scottish drinks containers would additionally must be specifically labelled and tracked.

However the scheme is beneath menace. The UK authorities is unlikely to agree to the commerce exemption wanted to allow commerce guidelines in Scotland to vary from the remainder of the UK. And critics argue {that a} deposit return scheme can be troublesome for smaller retailers in an already aggressive sector as a result of prices of dealing with returns and registering with the scheme.

Nevertheless, comparable schemes in different European nations have prevented big volumes of litter from getting into the setting. These deposit return schemes provide perception into how efficient a measure they are often and supply a potential route for implementation within the UK.

A pile of plastic bottles next to a lake.
Plastic litter is an environmental concern and a drain on public funds.
Vladimir Gjorgiev/Shutterstock

Proof from Europe

In Finland, a deposit return system for glass bottles was launched within the Fifties and continues as we speak, having included plastic drinks containers for the previous 20 years. The scheme is operated completely by the personal sector, with 5,000 plastic container-return machines situated throughout the nation in outlets, lodges, eating places, places of work and colleges.

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Every time an individual buys a drink in a bottle or a can, they pay a 15 to 40 cent deposit, relying on the fabric the container is made out of. The containers are then recycled or the supplies are reused on their return.

Nearly each bottle and might in Finland is recycled because of the scheme. In 2020, Finnish residents recycled 94% of aluminium cans (out of 1.4 billion bought) and 92% of plastic bottles (out of 530 million). Against this, simply 82% and 57% had been recycled within the UK respectively.

Norway has achieved an much more spectacular recycling price of 97%. Norway’s deposit return strategy is as an alternative supplemented with an environmental tax imposed on bottle producers. The tax is NOK 6.46 (£0.50) per unit of steel and glass and NOK 3.91 (£0.30) for plastic objects. To keep away from the tax, producers should recycle greater than 95% of the containers they produce.

Plastic bottles normally find yourself being “downcycled” into different objects, like fleece supplies. However the tax has inspired producers of plastic bottles in Norway to make bottles simpler to recycle by utilizing extra uniform and fewer contaminated supplies. Efforts have included utilizing accredited bottle tops and glue and labels which might be simpler to take away. The standard of recycled plastic in Norway is now so excessive that recycled bottles will be made into new bottles.

Plastic recycling schemes in Europe have additionally delivered social advantages. The Finnish system permits folks to decide on to gather their deposit or donate it to charity. In Berlin, these not inclined to return their bottles to the shop can depart them beneath bins for others to gather and declare the reward.

A wall of tightly packed plastic bottles.
Plastic bottles at a recycling plant.
Moreno Soppelsa/Shutterstock

Public acceptance

The success of a deposit return scheme largely depends upon what occurs to the merchandise as soon as it’s returned. Success is just not based mostly on financial viability alone. Any deposit return scheme must be acceptable to the individuals who run and use it.

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Price-benefit evaluation of two separate deposit return schemes (recycling and reuse) for plastic meals trays in Sweden discovered that the prices are better than the advantages for recycling, however not for reuse. When you take into account the prices concerned in packaging, washing and the recycling course of, then a return scheme may go finest if the merchandise is reused.

In Scotland, issues about how the scheme will run and its actual profit are chipping away on the confidence of the general public and drinks retailers. Analysis finds that many individuals in Scotland are unaware of how the deposit return scheme would function and why it’s crucial. Among the examine’s individuals even perceived the refund cost as one other type of taxation imposed by the Scottish authorities.

Communication performs a vital position. A special examine, which explored the general public acceptance of a deposit return scheme in Catalonia, Spain, revealed that the way in which a scheme is offered to customers and the way a lot info is given influences how it’s perceived. Extra info (given over the cellphone) tended to yield a extra constructive viewpoint.

Clearly, extra info is required for Scotland’s recycling scheme to be accepted extra extensively.

If designed appropriately, deposit return schemes can encourage recycling by elevating the worth of plastic waste. Recycling and reuse schemes are additionally made extra technically and economically viable if backed up with tax incentives.

However the barrier dealing with the adoption of a deposit return scheme within the UK is a scarcity of uniformity. We shouldn’t be asking if Scotland ought to undertake a scheme or not. As a substitute, plans for the remainder of the UK to undertake this strategy ought to be accelerated to get the entire of the UK on the identical web page.


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