Councils across England could save up to £35m every year if the government introduces a deposit return scheme [DRS] for plastic bottles and other drinks containers, according to a new report.
Earlier this month environment secretary Michael Gove told the Conservative party conference that he would work with the industry to see how the scheme might be implemented in England.
Campaigners say it would reduce litter and help tackle plastic pollution which experts say risks “near permanent contamination of the natural environment” with potentially devastating consequences.
However, some cash-strapped local authorities have expressed concern that they would lose money as people would use the scheme rather than recycle through local authorities’ kerbside systems.
But Wednesday’s report, based on an analysis of data across eight local authorities including some with high and low recycling rates, found that rather than losing income individual authorities could make savings of between £60,000 and £500,000 each, due to reduced littering and landfill charges as well as there being fewer recycling bins to process.
Allison Ogden-Newton, chief executive of Keep Britain Tidy, one of the groups behind the report, said: “There is no doubt that introducing a deposit refund system would reduce littering in this country but, until now, there has been a concern that it would have a negative impact on cash-strapped councils. This report shows that in fact a DRS would create savings for local government.”
Over eight million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans every year, with 80 per cent coming from land. Plastic bottles are a major contributor; in June the Guardian revealed that a million are made every minute and the rate is rising quickly, with annual consumption forecast to top half a trillion by 2021.
At least a dozen nations already have a DRS, in which a small deposit is paid when purchasing the bottle, which is then returned when the empty bottle is brought back.
In Germany and Denmark, which have DRS schemes, more than 90 per cent of bottles are returned. In England, just 57 per cent of plastic bottles are recycled, mostly through streetside collection schemes.
Gove was pressured this summer by opposition parties and NGOs to introduce a DRS in England, and Nicola Sturgeon announced in September that Scotland would introduce a DRS.
In response he announced a four-week call for views to inform how the scheme would be designed. The government’s working group on the issue will also consider DRS for metal and glass containers.
Today’s report was commissioned by Keep Britain Tidy, the Marine Conservation Society, Surfers Against Sewage, Campaign to Protect Rural England and Reloop. It was carried out by environmental research group Eunomia.
It found that local authorities would lose some income as there would be a reduced number of cans and plastic bottles in the kerbside collections to sell to recyclers. However, the savings made from having fewer containers to collect and sort, as well as reduced levels of littering and reduced landfill charges would outweigh the loss of revenue.
Samantha Harding, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “There are no longer any valid arguments that DRS doesn’t work and the environmental case is crystal clear. For our coasts and countryside, the cost of not taking action will be far greater than any incurred by the parts of industry that are trying to block this. Michael Gove can now build on the success of the government’s bag charge and the ban on microbeads by confirming England will have a deposit system.”
Hugo Tagholm, from Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Deposit refund schemes are a tried-and-tested way of dramatically increasing recycling rates while reducing plastic bottle and other container pollution on our beaches, in our streets and across the countryside.
“This report now clearly shows that introducing a DRS for England would also benefit local economies and communities, saving councils money that could be redirected to vital frontline services.”