Waste plan floats bottle deposit scheme

Plastic bottlesImage copyright
Getty Images

Consumers will have to pay a returnable deposit on bottles, cans and disposable cups under a new government strategy.

The strategy also compels councils to provide separate collections for food waste.

Recycling will be made less confusing for households, and manufacturers will need to foot the cost of disposing of the goods they produce.

The plan has been cautiously welcomed by green groups, but some business groups are wary.

The strategy is designed to help combat climate change, safeguard resources and reduce the flow of plastic to the ocean.

Why plastic recycling is so confusing

Why are the changes needed?

The last waste strategy was set out 18 years ago and since then concern has boomed over climate change, the oceans and the way we use resources.

Rotting waste is a major source of greenhouse gases that are over-heating the planet. And plastic litter is killing marine life.

The government’s Resources and Waste Strategy sets out how ministers aim to change the way we deal with waste from the home to the workplace.

Image copyright

What are the proposals exactly?

  • Tackle the current postcode recycling lottery under which different materials are recyclable in different areas.
  • Introduce consistent labelling on packaging so consumers know what they can recycle – this should drive up recycling rates.
  • Make the firms that produce materials responsible for the cost of disposing of those items. This could extend from drinks cartons to electrical goods and cars, though this is not yet certain. Industry will pay higher fees if their products are harder to reuse, repair or recycle.
  • Compel local councils to offer separate collections for food waste – details will go for consultation.
  • Tell councils to scrap the charge for disposing of garden waste because if it ends up in landfill it produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
  • Encourage manufacturers to design products that last longer and increase the levels of repair and re-use.
  • Crack down on waste crime by introducing electronic tracking of waste shipments.

The Environment Minister Michael Gove said: “Our strategy sets out how we will go further and faster, to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Together we can move away from being a ‘throw-away’ society, to one that looks at waste as a valuable resource.”

How are people reacting to the plans?

Libby Peake from the Green Alliance responded: “There’s a lot of good in the policy – it’s on the right lines. But we need to see the detail of exactly how things will work.”

She, and others, worry that major retailers will persuade the government during its consultation phase to exclude large drinks bottles from the deposit return scheme.

The British Retail Consortium says most of the problem with beach litter is “on-the-go” containers, not one litre bottles from supermarkets.

They also fear the cost of installing the “reverse vending” machines that pay people for returning their containers.

Lucrative item

Councils fear that if aluminium cans are part of the deposit scheme they will no longer appear in household bins, where they are the most lucrative item for recycling.

Samantha Harding, from the green group CPRE, told BBC News she welcomed some proposals in the report. She said: “Separating food waste is essential – because decomposing food in general household bins reduces the value of other material sent for re-cycling.”

There is some frustration among campaigners that key issues are still not tied down after many months of debate.

But sources suggest the Treasury is resisting measures that might increase costs, and industry is warning that rushed policies could backfire.

Today’s plans build on the Autumn Budget, which announced a world-leading tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content – subject to consultation.

Follow Roger on Twitter.