Why the Deposit Return Scheme for Scotland needs a rethink.

The Campaign for a Deposit Return Scheme in Scotland was supported by many environmental organisations. The aim was to reduce litter and increase recycling rates. I was involved in the early part of the campaign. There was a lot of enthusiasm and it made sense. In hindsight, though, was very much “of its time”.

The scheme was based on similar ones in countries where everyone does in-person shops several times a week and where there is a limited kerbside recycling scheme. The idea of taking your bottles to the supermarket is more straightforward in these countries as you are going anyway. In the UK most households do one shop a week. 60-70% of them do it on-line and have it delivered. Shoppers will need to take sacks of bottles and cans to supermarkets to scan them through the machines. Most of those drink containers would have been recycled anyway because there is no room for them in their landfill bins (whose size was reduced a few years ago to encourage recycling). They weren’t dumping them in the street.

The deposit return scheme, as proposed, is going to be very hard on people who already recycle to the max. Take for example a 24 can pack of coke costing around £8. At 20p per can that’s a deposit of £4.80. That’s more than 50% deposit. It’s such a high percentage because the deposit in Scotland is set at 20p per item (it’s 8p (10 cents) in most European countries). Soft drinks are also more expensive in European countries so the percentage is even higher.

Currently, I crush those cans and put them in my recycling bin. It’s simple and effective. Under the new scheme, to get my £4.80 back, I will have to keep all 24 cans intact (so they can be scanned) and take them to a supermarket. None of those cans currently have bar codes on them because they are multipack cans. Which means they can’t be automatically scanned anyway.

Milk bottles also have to be returned, and glass bottles. I already recycle all of these items , conveniently, from home.

The deposit return scheme will eviscerate the existing home recycling system which works because local authorities sell the waste to recycling companies. Without this source of income, kerbside recycling will require more funding, or the service itself will be reduced, at a time when we need to be recycling a greater range of material. The deposit return scheme model is stuck in a time warp where plastic bottles were the primary issue. We now need a more comprehensive kerbside scheme covering fabric, metal and a greater range of plastics including polythene.

The deposit return scheme will also lead to extra journeys to get containers through the machines. That is bound to result in queues. We know from research that people are put off recycling by being asked to take extra steps. It’s not an extra step in Europe as they are already going to the supermarket.

With over half of households in Scotland now having their shopping delivered deposit return looks less easy to administer. The statistics show that it’s the 25-55 age group who do the most online grocery shopping. Older people don’t and they will literally have to “carry the can” and scan it in at the supermarket. That’s assuming that supermarkets agree to take bottles and cans back when they home deliver food. Even if they do I will have to keep my cans and bottles intact so they can still be scanned. No more crushing cans and deflating milk bottles with hot water out of the kettle. I am going to have bags or boxes of stuff to store. And I will also have to monitor the supermarket bills to check they are actually giving me the right money back.

Then there is the level of the deposit. The 20p deposit compares to 8p in most european countries (10 cents). This is effectively a tax on those who can’t return the containers, and that is going to be the elderly and housebound or anyone who cant take bags of stuff on the bus to the supermarket.

Now, some people say “get over it, we used to have deposit on bottles”. Well, we did, but it was not a recycling scheme. The Barrs system had a 10p deposit on glass bottles which the company took back, washed and reused. They only stopped it when the majority of their sales moved to supermarkets. And that is where the plastic bottles come into the story.

Recycling plastic bottles has a substantial carbon footprint. While we need to reduce waste, using less or reusing is always better for the environment than recycling.

At the beginning of the campaign for a Deposit Return Scheme for Scotland most of the concern was on plastic bottles that were causing litter and wildlife habitat issues. These were generally not being bought in supermarkets, and a lot of that was being dropped by visitors to beaches and other nice places.

I think we have to rethink recycling in its totality to meet our needs in 2023. That means addressing type 5 plastic (the stuff that goes in your freezer), polythene and fabric. Deposit return, as it is proposed, doesn’t fit with the way we currently shop and recycle in Scotland.

Published by GordonH

Charity Professional丨Trumpet & Cornet Player丨Christian丨Leftist丨Radio Amateur (GM4SVM)丨EV Driver丨#ActuallyAutistic

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