Government “minded to introduce DRS” in 2023

The government has said it is minded to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) from 2023 but a final decision will not be made until further analysis is carried out on the costs and benefits.

This week, DEFRA published a raft of responses to public consultations as part of an update on progress towards the introduction of the Environment Bill which will be introduced early in the second session of this Parliament.

The Bill will introduce powers that will enable a deposit return scheme to be implemented in England, Wales and Northern Ireland from 2023.

New powers will also be taken to introduce Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes which will make producers responsible for 100% of the cost of dealing with packaging waste, up from the current level of 10%.

The government will also extend its power to set producer responsibility obligations that cover the prevention and redistribution of waste, so that it can tackle “the moral scandal that is food waste”.

The Bill will make it easier for the public to recycle by requiring local authorities to collect a consistent set of materials from all households and businesses in England, with clearer labelling on packaging so people know what can be recycled.

The Treasury, meanwhile, has published responses to a consultation on its proposal to introduce a new tax on the production and import of plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content from April 2022.

It is the DRS scheme, however, that represents arguably the most radical and contentious departure from the current waste system as the government tries to hit its target to collect 77% of single-use plastic bottles placed on the market by weight by 2025, and 90% by 2029.

More than 200,000 people responded to the consultation, the vast majority of whom were via campaigns from Greenpeace, Marine Conservation Society, and 38 Degrees.

The majority of respondents wanted all materials – encompassing polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic bottles, steel and aluminium cans, and glass bottles – included in a DRS, as well as all types of drinks including soft drinks, alcoholic drinks, milk and plant-based drinks.

There was also majority support for an ‘all-in’ DRS scheme including containers of any size rather than an ‘on-the-go’ DRS that would only include containers smaller than 750mls and drinks sold in single format containers to target those most often sold for consumption outside of the home.

Were a DRS to be introduced, the government is proposing that producers would meet the full net cost for in-scope drinks containers through a fee-paying system.

A further consultation on the proposed scope and model of the DRS is expected in 2020.

Greenpeace said the government’s failure to fully commit to an all-in scheme meant it was “kicking the can down the road” and said more delay would mean “billions more bottles being dumped and burned”.

UKHospitality, on the other hand, said the policy proposals would lead to significant costs for businesses and consumers. It added that any DRS needed to be consistent across the whole United Kingdom and expressed concern that the scope of the scheme may be “unwieldy” for hospitality outlets.

The government published a first draft of the Environment Bill – the first for 20 years – in December last year. The wide-ranging Bill also includes commitments to legislate on environmental governance, air, biodiversity and water.

Michael Gove, in his last act as Environment Secretary before being replaced by Theresa Villiers, said the measures set out in the Bill would position the UK as a “world leader, ensuring that after EU Exit environmental ambition and accountability are placed more clearly than ever before at the heart of government”.

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