The roll-out of a deposit return scheme (DRS) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland within three years has been met with scepticism from the Recycling Association (RA) which argues it will complicate the planned roll out of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and consistency of collections.
The reaction from RA chief Simon Ellin follows the UK Government’s response to a wide-ranging consultation. DRS was first proposed by ministers five years ago and one is now promised for October 2025. Scotland’s own DRS is due to go live this August. Wales is proposing to include glass, a material not within the scope of the other nations’ schemes.
Ellin says he cannot understand why DRS is needed when enhanced household collections will be funded through EPR, arguing consumers could potentially end up with two systems.
‘We will see people taking bottles and cans to DRS return points to get the deposit, when digital technology could mean they could scan the packaging and then put it in their household recycling bins,’ he argues. ‘Indeed, there will be a greater carbon impact from people driving to put their containers in reverse vending machines. Instead, it is more efficient and better for the environment for these bottles to be collected from the kerbside.’
He adds that municipal authorities and their contractors are likely to miss out on valuable resources from households as high-value commodities such as aluminium cans and PET bottles are ‘cherry-picked’ by the DRS system.
‘DRS seems like a backward step that adds another layer of complexity to the system and not much more. EPR and consistency of collections have the potential to transform the way we recycle in the UK but DRS doesn’t fit naturally into that.’
Wales is conducting trials of digital technology within EPR to give households deposits for their cans, plastics bottles and glass bottles. ‘Let’s give this time to see if it works better than DRS,’ he urges policy makers. ‘Because if it does, it fits more nicely with EPR and consistency and has a better carbon footprint. Let’s use digital technology to improve our collections rather than introducing a DRS scheme that will make it almost impossible to implement.’
A similar sentiment has been adopted by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management whose director of policy and external affairs, Lee Marshall, said: “Whilst CIWM support the concept in principle, we are still of the opinion that the scheme should wait until both national packaging EPR and consistent collections in England have been fully implemented. In pressing ahead, we are at risk of introducing a scheme that could be very costly and might not have been needed if the desired outcomes from consistency and EPR are realised.’