A deposit return scheme (DRS) for beverage containers will start in England, Northern Ireland and Wales by October 2025, more than two years after Scotland implements its own system.
Drinks containers made from PET plastic, steel, and aluminium cans will be in scope for all three nations. The Welsh system will also include glass. The deposit will be returned once the empty container is returned to a return point, most likely operated by a retailer.
While 60% of respondents to the government’s consultation on the DRS in 2021 backed a 20p deposit, the exact fee will be determined by a deposit management organisation (DMO), which will be set up next year.
In 2019, the government said it would introduce the DRS in 2023 but, following the Covid-19 pandemic, it suggested a realistic timeline for implementation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would be in late 2024 at the earliest. It has now been delayed a further year.
Details of the system emerged this morning (20 January) as Defra, the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, published its long-awaited response to its 2021 consultation, setting out the future path for a DRS in the rest of the UK.
The DMO will be set up in spring 2024 and is likely to consist of a consortium of retailers, producers and the wider industry. This will give it around 18 months from the scheme’s conception to the introduction of the DRS.
All retailers which sell in-scope items are required to operate as return points, but will be able to apply for an exemption through the DMO, which will set the criteria. Large online retailers will be obligated to provide a takeback service, but the exact details are to be decided by the DMO.
A target is in place to collect over 85% of returnable drinks containers within three years of the scheme’s launch, Defra said.
Environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “We know that people want to do the right thing to stop destructive plastic from being thrown into our precious environment and too often ending up floating in our rivers and the ocean.
“That is why we are moving ahead with our powers from our landmark Environment Act to introduce a deposit return scheme for drinks containers.
“This will provide a simple and effective system across the country that helps people reduce litter and recycle more easily, even when on the move.”
Local authorities will be disappointed by the fact that an assessment has not been provided on any profit or loss councils will make from the scheme.
In 2017, Eunomia said councils stand to benefit £35 million a year from the scheme, but a string of local authorities have raised serious concerns about a drop of income from the sale of recyclables which will be taken out of their kerbside systems.
While an impact assessment is not due until later this year, Defra did allude to the fact that local authorities can claim unredeemed deposits on beverage containers which end up at materials recycling facilities (MRFs).
Defra has also previously said that a reduction in litter would lead to savings for councils.
The issue of whether VAT will be charged on deposits has also not been settled. This issue is being led by the Treasury, which is working with Defra to find a solution.
Defra will now look to engage with industry to set up the DMO and will begin drafting the required statutory instruments to put the legislation into law. Further work will also be done to ensure alignment with Scotland.
Defra also acknowledged that a digital DRS is a possibility in the future, but the technology is still in its infancy.
Defra’s announcement also included two industry statements welcoming the proposals.
We strongly welcome today’s commitment
- Dusan Stojankic, Coca-Cola in Great Britain & Ireland
Dusan Stojankic, VP of operations at Coca-Cola in Great Britain & Ireland, said: “We strongly welcome today’s commitment by the Government to introduce deposit return schemes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“Coca-Cola has long called for a well-designed deposit return scheme that works seamlessly across Great Britain to reduce litter, and enable more packaging to be collected and recycled at the highest quality.
“The plans outlined by Defra are a step to achieving just that. We’ll continue to work closely with officials, retailers and our peers across the industry to ensure that the scheme is easy for consumers to use, while delivering the best outcome for the environment.”
Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, added: “We welcome Defra’s commitment to introducing an all-in can/PET deposit return scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“By kickstarting the UK’s circular economy for drinks containers, the deposit return scheme will help consumers play their part in ensuring the containers they buy are returned for recycling. We look forward to working with officials to help guarantee its success.”