United Kingdom

Queen's Speech: Ministers to introduce recycling deposit return scheme

Ministers today confirmed they will rollout a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and metal cans as part of a wider push to 'revolutionise how we recycle'. 

The return scheme has been included in the Queen's Speech and it could see shoppers charged 20 pence extra for drinks in bottles or cans.  

A charge will be added to the price of certain products, with the money then returned to the customer if and when they bring back the packaging to be recycled. 

The Government is hoping the scheme will increase recycling levels and also provide for 'more effective litter enforcement'.

The proposal will be brought forward in the Government's Environment Bill which will also include powers to introduce charges on single use plastic items to further crackdown on pollution.   

Ministers today confirmed they will rollout a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and metal cans as part of a wider push to 'revolutionise how we recycle'

Boris Johnson and the Government is hoping the scheme will increase recycling levels and also provide for 'more effective litter enforcement'

How does the new deposit return scheme compare with past initiatives?

The proposed launch of a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles will inevitably draw comparisons with similar initiatives from the last century.

The idea of offering a deposit refund on glass bottles can be traced back to 1905 in the UK. 

Before that businesses were reliant on customers voluntarily returning bottles. 

In the 20th Century some firms like AG Barr, the Scottish maker of Irn Bru, would offer a halfpenny for a returned bottle so that they could be re-used.   

And in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s some milkmen would collect bottles from doorsteps and offer a refund in return.  

However, such schemes died out in the 1980s because of the introduction of metal cans and cheap plastic bottles.  

The Government has long-been planning to introduce a deposit return scheme and ministers have faced criticism over the slow progress they have made.  

The Government is currently consulting on the policy to hammer out exactly how the scheme could work ahead of implementation potentially in 2024.  

It represents the latest attempt by ministers to make the nation greener after similar initiatives like increasing charges on plastic shopping bags and banning plastic straws. 

The deposit return scheme will prompt memories of initiatives which were in place in the UK in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s which saw some milkmen offer refunds to people who returned glass bottles. 

Some manufacturers also used to offer a small payment for returned bottles. 

The Government said in the Queen's Speech that the Environment Bill will help to 'preserve our resources by minimising waste, promoting resource efficiency, and moving towards a circular economy'.  

It said its proposed measures will 'revolutionise how we recycle'. 

'These measures include extended producer responsibility, product labelling powers, introducing a consistent approach to recycling across local authorities in England, introducing a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, and providing for more effective litter enforcement,' it said. 

'It will also provide the powers to introduce charges for single use plastic items to combat pollution.'  

An initial consultation on introducing a deposit return scheme was launched in 2019 when Michael Gove was environment secretary. 

That consultation concluded with the Government saying it was minded to bring forward the initiative. 

A further round of consultation is now looking at the specifics of how the scheme could work and it is due to conclude in June.

It is examining which items should be included in the scheme and how much the deposit should be after reports earlier this year that it could be set at 20 pence. 

The initial consultation suggested the scheme could cover plastic bottles, steel and aluminium cans, and glass bottles. 

UK consumers go through an estimated 14billion plastic drinks bottles, nine billion drinks cans and five billion glass bottles a year, according to the Government.  

Many of those are recycled but ministers believe more can still be done to increase recycling rates.      

Deposit return schemes have boosted recycling in European countries, with deposits ranging from five pence to 22 pence on the continent. 

The deposit would be paid back when empties are returned to a network of ‘reverse vending machines’ in supermarkets across the country.

An initial consultation on introducing a deposit return scheme was launched in 2019 when Michael Gove was environment secretary

The deposit return scheme for drinks containers will be the latest in a long line of recent green government initiatives.

A ban on plastic straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds was implemented in October last year. 

Meanwhile, ministers doubled the price of single-use bags in April this year as part of the ongoing war on plastic. 

The bag tax went up to 10p and was extended to include all small shops, markets and takeaways.      

The Environment Bill will also be used by the Government to set binding environmental targets and to boost investment in new green industries.    

It will create a new independent Office for Environmental Protection which will be tasked with enforcing environmental law. 

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