There has been a lot of media attention in recent weeks on improving recycling rates and reducing littering.
One of the proposed measures that puts retailers in the firing line is a deposit return scheme for bottles and cans, where stores would have to take back packaging and return a small deposit of something like 5p or 10p to customers that was added to the price of the product before purchase.
We don’t yet know whether it’ll be just plastic and glass, and there are still questions about whether stores would have to house large, expensive automatic reverse vending machines or take back materials at the till.
If stores had to take back bottles manually, it would cause problems for staff that have to deal with large numbers of returns or items that can’t be recycled, as well as raising hygiene issues as many returns won’t have been properly washed.
There’s also research suggesting that recycling rates of plastic bottles is already pretty high. Seventy-four per cent of plastic beverage containers are already being recycled, so if DRS were effective, there would only be a 10-15% improvement in recycling rates.
The question we asked when giving evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee last week, and in submissions to Government, is whether there is a better way of closing that gap. If councils focused on improving the provision and consistency of the existing kerbside collection network it would have a tangible impact on recycling rates without placing additional burdens on retailers.
We, as a sector, are keen to be part of effective ways of reducing litter and its impact on the environment, and have previously lobbied the Government to include convenience stores where measures have been shown to work, such as the carrier bag charging scheme.
However, when it comes to the DRS proposals as they stand, the financial and operational risks to retailers are too high, there are too many unknowns about the details of a scheme, and there is an existing kerbside collection network that isn’t being utilised to its fullest effect.