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Call for evidence

Next steps for deposit return schemes

Background information

Deposit return schemes

Deposit return schemes (DRS) aim to encourage the public to return waste—particularly plastic and glass bottles as well as aluminium or steel drinks cans—into an organised recycling process. The schemes involve adding a small deposit on top of the price of the product, which is then refunded when the waste is returned to an in-store collection point or reverse vending machine system. These items are then collected and taken for sorting and reprocessing.[1] Though deposit returns schemes have traditionally focused on drinks containers, they could cover all types of containers, packaging or even other types of waste.

Previous Committee work on deposit return schemes

In December 2017 the Environmental Audit Committee’s report Plastic Bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide found that the UK landfills, litters or incinerates 5.5 billion plastic bottles per year and highlighted the fact that if marine plastic pollution continued to rise at the current rate, the amount of plastic in the sea would outweigh fish by 2050.[2] The Committee found that kerbside collection of household recycling collection by local authorities, made mandatory in 2001, had increased plastic bottle recycling from 1% in 2001 to 57% by 2012. By 2017 the recycling rate had not improved from this level under the existing collection and recycling system: this suggested that additional recycling approaches were needed.

The Committee made the following recommendation:

We recommend that the Government introduces a legislated Deposit Return Scheme for all PET plastic drinks bottles. The upcoming Waste Strategy should also examine whether to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme for other beverage containers, such as aluminium cans, to foster a culture of recycling packaging used on-the-go. It is vital that a Deposit Return Scheme is well-designed. It should be created after a consultation with stakeholders such as manufacturers, retailers and local authorities. Consultation should build upon the working group already in place and examine the innovations suggested to improve the functioning of a Deposit Return Scheme, such as local authority collaboration and retailer partnerships. We particularly encourage collaboration with Zero Waste Scotland, who are responsible for planning Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme. Based on research, the scheme should place a 10–20p deposit on top of the price of product that will be refunded to the consumer upon return of the bottle or can. We believe a Deposit Return Scheme will create a source of good quality recycled plastic for manufacturers, therefore ensuring that fewer plastic bottles are incinerated, landfilled or littered in land or at sea.

In September 2019, in its report on Plastic food and drink packaging, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee supported the introduction of a DRS for drinks containers.[3] That Committee acknowledged potential impacts on local authority kerbside recycling and revenue streams derived from kerbside recycling value chains, and also called on the Government to collaborate with the Scottish Government and learn from the experience of the introduction of a DRS in Scotland.

Proposals for deposit return schemes in the UK

In December 2018 the UK Government published its Resource and Waste strategy. As part of the strategy, the Government highlighted its plans to match targets set under EU directives to collect 77% of single-use plastic bottles placed on the market by weight by 2025 and 90% by 2029.[4] Deposit return schemes were described “a means by which industry can meet the high collection targets set out in the Single Use Plastics Directive”. 

In February 2019 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) consulted on the introduction of a deposit return scheme in England.[5] The response to the consultation was issued in August 2019.[6] Ministers announced that they would seek a general power to introduce deposit return schemes in the Environment Bill, but would consider the consultation responses further, and commission additional research projects, in order to determine the scope and model of any scheme.[7] A further consultation is now expected in the spring of 2021, with a view to the introduction of a deposit return scheme in England from 2023.[8]

In May 2020 the Scottish Parliament approved legislation for a separate scheme in Scotland.[9] The scheme in Scotland will start in July 2022.  It will apply a 20p deposit charge to all drinks sold in PET plastic, metal and glass containers of any size, though it will not cover  milk containers made from HDPE plastic.

In Schedule 8 to the Environment Bill, currently way through its report stage in the Commons, the UK Government has proposed a framework for deposit return schemes (termed ‘deposit schemes’ in the Bill) which might be implemented by administrations in England, in Northern Ireland and in Wales.

Progress in introducing a deposit return scheme for England

The Environment Bill, once enacted, will give the Secretary of State the power to make regulations establishing deposit schemes in England for the purposes of “sustaining, promoting or securing an increase in the recycling or reuse of materials, or reducing the incidence of littering or fly-tipping.”[10]

In the 2019 consultation DEFRA Ministers sought views on two models for a DRS in England: an “all-in” model, covering all drinks containers placed on the market, irrespective of size, and an “on-the-go” model, restricted to drinks containers of less than 750ml and sold in a single format.[11]

Inquiry call for evidence

The Committee's inquiry into the next steps for a deposit return scheme, will examine the following:

  • The final design of a DRS scheme for England; and
  • The introduction of UK-wide interoperable deposit return schemes under the Schedule 8 framework and separate Scottish legislation.

As part of this inquiry we will be examining progress on implementation of relevant recommendations of the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the 2017 Parliament.[12]

We plan to take oral evidence on these issues in March 2021. We aim to have diverse panels of witnesses and ask organisations to bear this in mind when we ask them to choose a representative. We are currently monitoring the diversity of our witnesses.

We are inviting written submissions, with a deadline of 12 noon on Friday 5 March 2021, on the below areas:

In respect of the scheme to be proposed for England:

  • The types of waste to be collected under the scheme
  • The materials to be included in the scheme’s scope
  • Scheme design (‘all-in’, ‘on-the-go’ or other models) and the level and scale of deposit charges
  • The obligations on retailers at all levels (including online-only retailers) to participate in the scheme
  • The effect on scheme design of recent changes in patterns of retail activity
  • The impact of any scheme on existing reuse and recycling and reuse systems
  • The impact of any scheme on local authority kerbside collections and on local authority revenue streams dependent on the value chain of recyclables

And:

  • The potential relationship between deposit return schemes and other packaging waste initiatives promoted under the Resource and Waste Strategy, such as the packaging producer responsibility system and consistency in kerbside collections of dry recyclables
  • How the use of deposit return schemes is likely to affect the UK’s progress towards meeting the targets set in the Resource and Waste Strategy
  • The scope for interoperability between any schemes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to be established under Schedule 8 to the Environment Bill and the scheme to be established in Scotland under the Deposit and Return Scheme for Scotland Regulations 2020
  • The factors which have contributed to the successful implementation of deposit return schemes in other jurisdictions

 

Written evidence should be submitted through the Committee’s web portal. It is recommended that all submitters familiarise themselves with the Guidance on giving evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons which outlines word count, format, document size, and content restrictions.

We particularly encourage members of underrepresented groups to submit written evidence.

 

References

[1] Environmental Audit Committee, Plastic Bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide, 22 December 2017,

[2] Environmental Audit Committee, Plastic Bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide, First Report of Session 2017–19, HC 339, paras 70–94

[3] Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Plastic food and drink packaging, Sixteenth Report of Session 2017–19, HC 2080, paras 49 to 58

[4] House of Commons Library, Plastic Waste, 22 December 2020  

[5] https://consult.defra.gov.uk/environment/introducing-a-deposit-return-scheme/

[6] https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/introducing-a-deposit-return-scheme-drs-for-drinks-containers-bottles-and-cans

[7] Introducing a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland: Executive summary and next steps (August 2019), para 67

[8] HC Deb, 26 January 2021, col 321

[9] The Deposit and Return Scheme for Scotland Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/154)

[10] Schedule 8 to the Environment Bill, para 1(1). Similar powers are to be conferred on Welsh Ministers (in relation to Wales) and the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (in relation to Northern Ireland): the Secretary of State may make regulations for Wales and/or Northern Ireland, but only with the consent of the relevant devolved administration.

[11] Introducing a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland: Executive summary and next steps (August 2019), para 35

[12] Environmental Audit Committee, Plastic Bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide, First Report of Session 2017–19, HC 339, paras 70 to 94 and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Plastic food and drink packaging, Sixteenth Report of Session 2017–19, HC 2080, paras 49 to 58

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