Plastic bottle deposit return scheme finally looks set to start in England

Campaigners say long delay is adding to pollution and not including glass will break manifesto pledge

The launch of a long awaited deposit return scheme for plastic bottles in England is expected to be announced by the government.

Five years after Michael Gove first promised to bring it in, it is understood ministers will on Friday give the go-ahead for a deposit return scheme (DRS) that will not include glass, according to a report in the Grocer magazine.

The failure to include glass in the scheme, which was a manifesto promise, has been criticised by campaigners as a missed opportunity.

Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), which has campaigned for a DRS to tackle plastic pollution, said: “Whilst we should celebrate action being taken against the scourge of plastic pollution, this much delayed announcement on DRS appears a huge missed opportunity.

“The government has rolled back on its 2019 manifesto commitment to include glass, one of the most environmentally damaging materials. This is frankly nonsensical and puts England at odds with systems being introduced in Scotland and Wales, hindering UK-wide compatibility.”

The introduction of the deposit return scheme will not happen until 2024 – six years after it was announced by the government as a key environmental policy.

The delay has been criticised by SAS, which said it would result in an additional 16bn containers leaching into the environment, choking rivers and seas. “We demand greater ambition from government,” said SAS.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it would be making an announcement on Friday.

A DRS was first announced in 2018 by Gove, the then environment secretary, to cut the litter polluting the land and sea by returning a small cash sum to consumers who return their bottles and cans. It came after years of campaigning and with a warning from Gove that it was “absolutely vital we act now to tackle this threat and curb the millions of plastic bottles a day that go unrecycled”.

The government’s manifesto promise in 2019 was to introduce a deposit return scheme to incentivise people to recycle plastic and glass and the first consultation was met with a high level of support for the scheme.

Across the UK, consumers go through an estimated 13bn plastic drinks bottles a year. Only 7.5bn are recycled. The remaining 5.5bn are landfilled, littered or incinerated.

Scotland’s DRS will begin in August this year and will include glass, plastic and cans. The public will pay a 20p deposit when they buy a drink that comes in a single-use container made of PET plastic, steel and aluminium, or glass. They will get their money back when they return the empty container to one of tens of thousands of return points.

Campaigners urged the government to reconsider the exclusion of glass from the English DRS. Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, said: “We are set to disincentivise consumer recycling of what would otherwise be perfectly recyclable containers like glass bottles.

“An all-in deposit return scheme across all four nations of the UK is the only way we will radically reduce our dependence on natural resources. We cannot continue to ignore the UK’s chronically low levels of glass recycling. We need urgent systems change that do not create perverse incentives in the market and leave our environment open to perpetual degradation.”


Sandra Laville Environment correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Michael Gove calls for views on setting up plastic bottle deposit return scheme
Environment secretary says working group will look at how a deposit return scheme could help reduce plastic waste in England

Damian Carrington in Manchester

02, Oct, 2017 @4:02 PM

Article image
Bottle and can deposit return scheme gets green light in England
Consumers to receive small cash sum for returning plastic, glass and metal drinks containers

Damian Carrington Environment editor

27, Mar, 2018 @9:05 PM

Article image
Plastic bottle deposit return scheme could save England's councils £35m a year
Cash-strapped councils would save money thanks to reduced littering and landfill charges as well as having less recycling bins to collect, says report

Matthew Taylor

11, Oct, 2017 @5:30 AM

Article image
Bolder bottle return scheme could be worth £2bn, say campaigners
Restricted scheme would have far less benefit to UK economy, government data suggests

Sandra Laville

11, Jul, 2019 @5:01 AM

Article image
Plastic bottle deposit scheme in UK proving hit with shoppers
‘Reverse vending machines’ receive 311,500 bottles to date, says supermarket Iceland

Rebecca Smithers Consumer affairs correspondent

02, Jan, 2019 @4:23 PM

Article image
London's plastic water bottle waste is out of control, mayor is told
Committee calls for deposit return scheme and free refill stations after finding capital hooked on bottled water but not recycling

Rebecca Smithers Consumer affairs correspondent

12, Apr, 2017 @11:01 PM

Article image
Gove urged not to limit bottle deposit scheme to small containers
Environment secretary may only target drinks of less than 750ml in deposit return scheme

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

18, Feb, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Bottle and can deposit return scheme could cost £1bn, say UK retailers
Major supermarkets express support for government’s plan but key issues, including who would pay for it, remain unclear

Angela Monaghan

28, Mar, 2018 @3:31 PM

Article image
Plans by Westminster to block Scottish bottle deposit scheme a ‘travesty’
Environmental campaigners furious Alister Jack intends to deny trade exemption for bottle recycling proposals

Sandra Laville and Severin Carrell

13, Mar, 2023 @3:58 PM

Article image
Government 'dragging its feet' over plastic bottle scheme, say MPs
A deposit return scheme to tackle the billions of bottles not recycled every year is being kicked into the long grass, say MPs

Damian Carrington Environment editor

26, Feb, 2018 @1:10 PM