“A mockery of the pledge”: UK’s DRS plans spark anger as glass is excluded
26 Jan 2023 --- The UK Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is planning to roll out a deposit return scheme (DRS) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is set to be introduced in 2025, following extensive work with the industry to prepare for the necessary changes – including setting up infrastructure and amending labeling.
While British Glass supports excluding glass from the future scheme, several environmental organizations have criticized the move by saying the government is “making a mockery of the pledge.”
The scheme aims to collect over 85% of returnable drinks containers once it is in operation.
Every year, UK consumers go through an estimated 14 billion plastic drink bottles and 9 billion drink cans – many of which are littered or condemned to landfill, says the UK government.
The DRS will play an important role in increasing the supply of high-quality plastic suitable for recycling, so the scheme both complements and supports the objectives of the Plastic Packaging Tax, the government says in its official response to the plans.
The government says its priority is to move toward a circular economy, where resources are protected and kept in use for as long as possible and waste is minimized.
Introducing a DRS for single-use drinks containers is a key part of delivering this, as well as supporting government ambitions to reduce litter and to combat the effects of plastic pollution. Current recycling rates in the UK for drinks containers are around 70%, which is lower than other countries that have implemented DRS.
This leaves approximately 4 billion plastic bottles and 2.7 billion cans that are not recycled every year. Drinks containers often end up in landfill or sent to incineration plants, releasing highly polluting greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and increasing the demand for virgin materials, which also generate GHG emissions associated with creating new products.
DRS for cleaner waste stream
Although plastic bottles and aluminum cans are fully recyclable, current packaging recycling rates demonstrate that there are significant improvements to be made in drink containers recycling, asserts the government.
“We consider that a well-designed DRS for drink containers could achieve recycling rates of 90% or higher.”
Furthermore, DRS will create a cleaner, segregated waste stream for in-scope drinks containers separating containers by material at the point of return. This will reduce the level of contamination and the amount of recycling that is subsequently rejected.
Securing higher-quality material through the scheme means UK producers will have access to a steady supply of high-quality recycled material, creating a closed loop and making them less reliant on imported and virgin material.
While a DRS works for some packaging materials like plastic and aluminum cans, it is not the right solution for glass, asserts British Glass.
The organization says: “The evidence is clear – including glass in the DRS would have increased the carbon emissions in our atmosphere by two million metric tons, increased plastic consumption, and split glass food and beverage packaging into two waste streams – to the detriment of both.”
“We already have a convenient solution to improving glass recycling, and it’s at our doorsteps. By recycling glass through consistent curbside collections, Extended Producer Responsibility, and campaigns to promote a better culture of recycling, we can meet the glass industry’s recycling rate target of 90% by 2030,” says Dave Dalton, chief executive at British Glass.
Furthermore, the confederation believes that the public would prefer to see glass recycled at their homes as new polling from Savanta shows that two thirds of UK adults (69%) say that recycling glass bottles through household waste collections would be more convenient than returning them to a dedicated return point.
Meanwhile, British Glass data shows that 78% of respondents “often or always” use household collections to recycle their glass packaging and 73% of UK consumers agree or strongly agree that they would be more likely to recycle glass packaging if household collections were more frequent.
Criticism of effectiveness
However, environmental organizations and packaging associations criticize the exclusion of glass from the planned DRS.
Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet says: “An all-in DRS across all four nations of the UK is the only way we will radically reduce our dependence on natural resources. We cannot continue to ignore the UK’s chronically low levels of glass recycling. We need urgent systems changes that do not create perverse incentives in the market and leave our environment open to perpetual degradation.”
Wildlife campaigner Dominic Dyer adds: “The government wants the UK to be a world leader in addressing the waste crisis, but by excluding glass from the deposit return scheme, they are making a mockery of this pledge.”
“Excluding glass would be a complete disaster for the planet, and it’s therefore crucial that the UK’s scheme is implemented with glass included in all four nations.”
“The exclusion of glass from the government’s DRS for England is an unacceptable outcome for metal drinks containers and flies in the face of the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto which pledged a DRS to include glass and plastic drinks containers,” the Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association (MPMA) and the Aluminium Packaging Recycling Organisation (Alupro) respond to the government’s DRS consultation outcome.
Providing the most benefit?
MPMA and Alupro continue by saying that many successful DRS schemes around the world include glass, and much closer to home both Scotland and Wales plan to include glass in their own DRS. “The question has to be asked, if many other countries are doing it, why can’t we?”
MPMA believes that the consultation process which led to the decision to exclude glass was potentially flawed and says that several of its members are asking whether a judicial review should be sought.
“The exclusion of glass was introduced untested by DEFRA in the second round of the consultation and as such was not subjected to the much wider industry scrutiny and further consultation required,” MPMA’s director and chief executive Robert Fell tells PackagingInsights.
“The introduction of a scheme that disadvantages a material with such strong sustainability credentials, including an enviable recycling rate, is unacceptable and the government needs to think again, keep its promise to the electorate, and revert to the scheme that its own impact assessment calculated would provide the most benefit.”
Furthermore, Ecoveritas recognizes further challenges currently facing DRS implementation in the UK is that England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are moving at different speeds and appear to be taking different approaches.
Scotland is currently ahead of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, having settled on a national “return-to-retail” scheme for single-use containers made of PET, steel, aluminum or glass, with a deposit of 20p (US$0.2) per container, concludes the environmental compliance data specialist.
By Natalie Schwertheim
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