Deposit return schemes (DRS) should be consistent across all four nations of the UK to make it easy for businesses and the public, according to an influential committee of MPs.
In its response to the government’s consultation on a DRS for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the environmental audit committee (EAC) called for Defra to introduce a scheme which is interoperable throughout the UK arguing that it would be easier for consumers to understand and simpler for the drinks industry.
The committee recommended Defra pursue an all-in model for a DRS, following the lead set by Scotland, rather than a scheme purely for on-the-go containers. It said a well-designed all-in system would maximise the environmental benefits over an on-the-go scheme, collecting most high-quality material for recycling, improving resource circularity and reducing litter.
The EAC also recommended that cartons be included in the DRS, which is not currently within the government’s scope. It said there were strong environmental arguments in favour of collecting cartons, as well as existing capacity within the UK for cartons to be properly recycled and repurposed. It said failure to include cartons from the outset would result in greater costs should the material be added at a later stage.
The EAC launched an inquiry into next steps for a DRS in March 2021. It heard evidence that including glass in the scheme could enhance recycling rates further, with 18% of wasted containers in the UK in 2019 being glass, despite good kerbside collection. However, this is dependent on glass being compacted, rather than crushed, and ensuring safety and space concerns for small retailers are considered.
“It is absolutely right for producers to become responsible for the whole lifecycle of their packaging, but it must be fair across sectors,” said EAC chair, Philip Dunne. “That is why the government must ensure the DRS roll-out includes all materials and allows the Deposit Management Organisation to determine the fee structure across sectors.”
Data published in April for the financial year 2019/20 shows that recycling rates have plateaued in England for the fifth consecutive year and currently stand at around 45%.
Dunne said it was disappointing that the government had delayed the introduction of a DRS to 2024, adding it was critical that the current consultation helps finalise design of the scheme so it is not delayed any longer.