The UK needs a plastic bottle deposit return scheme, according to Parliament’s top green watchdog.
A report published by the Environmental Audit Committee agrees the move – one of the goals of Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign – is a key step in the fight against plastic pollution.
Committee chair and report author Mary Creagh MP says: “Obviously industry needs to be involved in the design of any scheme and then it has to be rolled out, but I think this is something we could see up and running in the next two to three years.
“And of course it’s a really important part of creating a sustainable economy and taking that plastic out of our rivers, off our streets and off our beaches.”
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Video: How do deposit return schemes work?
Plastic waste has been described as a “planetary crisis” by the UN.
In the UK alone, we use 35 million plastic bottles every year.
We currently recycle just over half, but the figures are much higher in countries with deposit return schemes. Finland, for example, recycles 92% of plastic bottles.
The return schemes give consumers money back for empty bottles.
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It isn’t a cheap initiative and some smaller businesses have concerns the scheme would be a big burden to run.
Shop owner Dean Holborn has two family-run stores in Surrey.
“Our main concerns as a small store is where are we going to put a machine like that, and is the handling of the volume of the bottles,” he says.
“People will bring back bags of unwashed dirty bottles. We’ll have to process them, then we’ll have to store them; we haven’t got that sort of space in our stores.”
The Association of Convenience Stores chief executive, James Lowman, says he is also concerned about the costs.
“Those machines are big, they’re very expensive, so someone has to pay for them. Whether that’s the retailer, whether that’s funded through the scheme, so we’ve got real concerns about whether that’s feasible.”
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Image: Michael Gove will report back in the New Year
The committee recommends other measures including free tap water in all places serving food, and more public water fountains.
It also wants plastic producers to use 50% recycled plastic by 2023.
Politicians are under pressure to act.
In his Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond described plastic waste as a “scourge” and is looking into a single-use plastic tax, like the 5p carrier bag charge.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has ordered out a call for evidence into deposit return schemes, and Environment Secretary Michael Gove will report back in the New Year.
Ms Creagh says she’s hopeful he will listen to calls for the schemes to be introduced.
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“Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign has really driven awareness in this issue and I think there’s a growing appetite from the public to go further, go faster, and try harder in this issue,” she said.
:: You can find out more about the Sky Ocean Rescue campaign and how to get involved at www.skyoceanrescue.com