Waste plan floats bottle deposit scheme

By Roger Harrabin
BBC environment analyst

Image source, Getty Images

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

Homes in England will be provided by councils with 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 are the changes needed?

The last waste strategy was set out 11 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.

Media caption,
Norway's bottle deposit scheme is the best in the world. How does it work?

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 Secretary 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 does this affect you?

Plans are not finalised, and many issues are under consultation, but broadly here is how this would affect you:

  • If you don't already have a caddy for food waste, you may do soon. You would be encouraged to use it but not be forced to do so.
  • The introduction of food waste containers may mean getting your main rubbish bin emptied less often.
  • You would have to pay a bit extra as a deposit on drinks containers, including coffee cups. You would get the deposit back if and when you recycled it.
  • You may have to be more careful which trader you employ to get rid of your old fridge or unwanted mattress - because they could be electronically tracked to ensure they do not dump it.
  • The goods that you buy may last longer and be more easily repaired, if government plans are effective.
Image source, PA

There are considerable differences currently around the UK. For instance, only around 35% of households in England are obliged to put food waste in its own caddy. That compares with 56% in Scotland and 100% in Wales. The figures exclude food waste mixed with garden waste.


We must stop throwing so much away, because there is no "away".

This is the key philosophy behind the government waste strategy. It is a huge and complicated area of policy, touching the lives of each of us, of businesses and of councils as well as government.

There is frustration among campaigners and opposition parties that many policy details are missing, and many going out to further consultation.

But some of the measures do look genuinely ambitious, and experts say that some of the policies will go further than those proposed by the EU.

If Michael Gove actually delivers, many will think the wait has been worthwhile, as this strategy could transform our attitudes to resources on the planet.

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.

Shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman said: "You can't aim to prevent fly tipping without ending cuts to the councils. And we need a plan for stopping the export of UK recycling and waste plastics to countries where they currently end up in landfill or polluting our oceans.

"Rather than a vision for building our recycling infrastructure, it talks about voluntary action and distant target deadlines, while talking up the value of more incinerators."

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.

Martin Tett from the Local Government Association, which represents councils, welcomed plans for companies to pay the cost of recycling their products.

However he warned: "Moves to standardise waste services, including weekly food collections, need to be fully funded."

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.

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