Bottle Deposit Schemes; The Way Forward For A Greener Future?
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
The importance of recycling and finding sustainable solutions has never been more important. Although it is easy to focus on the countries that are not conforming in reaching sustainable targets, in our ‘relentlessly positive’ attitude, Grow Talk takes a look at the countries finding sustainable success through the use of bottle deposit schemes.
Norway is a stand-out for all of the right environmental reasons, recycling up to 97 per cent of its plastic bottles thanks to a nationwide bottle deposit scheme. Ingrained in this green model of consumption is the idea that the container you purchase is on loan; it is not yours to own. For most of us, plastic bottles and containers are not prized collections; we don’t keep them on display or swap them at plastic meets for rarer editions, therefore the concept of returning the plastic vessel in exchange for money or store credit makes perfect sense.
As plastic producers in Norway are subject to an environmental tax, it also makes perfect sense from a business point of view. The more of their plastic that they recycle, the lower their tax. Most are signed up to the bottle deposit scheme and, if they reach a collective recycling target of above 95 per cent, they do not have to pay the tax at all. The evidence of the scheme speaks for itself here as plastic producers in Norway have collectively met that target for the last seven years.
Thus the incentive is there for the consumer; who receives a monetary reward for every bottle returned to a petrol station, shop or school; as well as the producer; who also receives that monetary reward through environmental tax exemption. And of course, the triple win is that the environment too is benefitting as the high-quality plastic waste can then be recycled into everything from textiles to packaging, including new plastic bottles.
Many plastic brands use multiple resins and additives that make it difficult to recycle and thus increasing the single-use plastic problem. London-based Polymateria is at the forefront of developing biodegradable and compostable plastics in order to combat plastic pollution. Norway have opted to keep things simple in terms of their plastic ingredients, as Polymateria CEO Niall Dunne explains:
“They picked two PET resins and said, ‘These are the ones you can work with.’ Then they lined the whole value chain up behind it, all the municipalities, the recycling machines and processes, and achieved great results.” (Huffington Post)
In March 2018, the UK government announced its plans to introduce a bottle deposit scheme whereby all single-use containers whether plastic, glass or metal could be returned in exchange for money. This would be the return of the additional charge (between 8p and 22p) applied to the cost of the product.
At present, there are over forty countries and twenty-one US states that operate some kind of deposit return scheme. Research by the Environmental Audit Committee found that countries with deposit return schemes tended to recycle between 80% and 95% of their plastic bottles. The current rate for recycling plastic bottles in the UK is 57%.
Norway as well as other EU countries including Denmark, Sweden and Germany all operate a deposit return scheme through a network of ‘reverse vending machines’. Plastic or glass containers and cans are inserted into the machine which then returns your money. Once a bottle is returned, businesses are then responsible for making sure they are effectively recycled – a move that has led to a 97% recycling rate in Germany.
The success of Norway’s bottle deposit scheme speaks to the importance of a well-thought out system; ‘reverse vending machines’ are easily available for consumers to recycle their plastic and moreover the mindset exists that the container is simply that, a re-usable vessel for consumption.
The success of such a scheme for the benefit of the consumer, producer and environment is clear from Norway’s example. If the UK’s plans go ahead and a bottle deposit scheme is introduced, some changes may need to be made. At present, recycling in England is operated on a local authority basis. For example, residents who live within the Exeter City Council catchment can recycle many materials at their kerbside collection but glass is an exception. Mid Devon residents, on the other hand, can recycle all of the same materials as Exeter as well as glass with their kerbside collection which has led to a 22.5% decrease in waste production in the area in just ten years.
As a country, the UK has already made progress on environmental issues including the microbeads ban and the 5p carrier bag charge, which has led to 9 billion fewer bags being distributed. Using countries like Norway and Germany as inspiration, a plastic deposit scheme could greatly contribute to the government’s vision for a greener future and help the UK achieve its 25 Year Environment Plan.