In an attempt to encourage recycling and cut waste, the British government has revealed plans to introduce a deposit scheme for single-use containers. It’s been considered a win for environmentalists and the slipping reputation of the Tory party alike.
The new and improved scheme is expected to cover plastic and glass bottles, and steel and aluminium cans. The immediate price of the products will be raised by a certain amount as a packaging deposit, which will be refunded when the container is returned.
Author Bill Bryson has commended the plan, saying that “future generations will look back on this decision as a piece of supremely enlightened policymaking, and one that raises the prospect of the world’s most beautiful country becoming free from drinks container litter at last.” His sickeningly wholesome statement with a utopian vision managed to sidestep the fact that the UK conducted a glass container return scheme for most of the 20th century before abolishing it, and that 40 countries worldwide and 21 US states have run deposit return schemes for decades.
Norway’s beer bottle deposits have been active since 1902, expanding to include plastic bottles since the 1970s. In 2014, 95% of PET bottles and 97% of all drink cans in Norway were returned under the scheme. In Sweden, deposit return schemes have run for glass bottles since 1885, aluminium cans since 1984 and PET bottles since 1994. Germany implemented their programme in 2003, paying 22p for each single-use container returned.
While the British government perpetuate the blind claim that England is leading in new and environmental industries, our slow uptake to this basic recycling system is glaring in relation to other countries, and as Brexit looms, it’s concerning to think what else we’ll be late to the party for.
It’s been three years since the Paris Agreement to reduce further global warming to 2 degrees by 2050, and the proposed deposit scheme is England’s third widescale attempt at curbing damaging environmental impact from the UK, after the 5p bag charge and ban on microplastics, which has yet to be put into effect.
Our curiously slow movement on environmental legislation can perhaps be explained by our current Environmental Secretary, Michael Gove, and his remarkable record on green issues, namely his attempt as Education Secretary to remove climate change from the geography curriculum in 2013.
The aim to challenge recycling rates in the UK, which currently stand at 45%, is a brilliant step in the right direction. However, as 25% of kerbside recycling for plastics only takes bottles, it has the potential to clash with existing recycling schemes. In addition to this, as over half of the 13 billion plastic bottles bought each year are recycled, there are concerns that the plan has themes of a token gesture, rather than a system that will revolutionise recycling in the country.
Perhaps the key to increasing recycling rates lies in how recycling is communicated and conducted, rather than incentive schemes for one of the few environmental issues people are already engaged.