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UK Minister Announces Public Consultation On Bottle Deposit Return Scheme

bottle underwater

Plastic bottles are a major contributor to marine pollution around the world (Photo: Rich Carey/Shutterstock)

The British Government is proposing a nationwide deposit-return scheme to combat the problem of pollution caused by plastic bottles.

Speaking at the Conservative party conference in Manchester this week, Environment Minister Michael Gove announced a four-week 'call to evidence' for interested parties to register their thoughts on the effects of such a scheme, and how it might best be implemented.

'We must protect our oceans and marine life from plastic waste if we are to be the first generation to leave our environment in a better state than we found it,' said Mr. Gove. 'That means tackling the rise in plastic bottles entering our waters by making it simpler and easier to recycle and dispose of them appropriately.'

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government committed to a deposit-return scheme, with the Welsh parliament also considering the idea. Multinational corporations such as Tesco and Coca-cola are supporting the working group.

The move has been broadly welcomed by environmental organisations, as the UK currently recycles only 57 per cent of the plastic bottles that are sold each year. 

Dr Sue Kinsey, Senior Pollution Policy Officer at the Marine Conservation Society said: 'Drinks containers such as plastic and glass bottle and aluminium cans make up about 10 per cent of litter on UK beaches. Evidence from around the world shows that deposit return schemes reduce littering, increase high-quality recycling and save local authorities money. We strongly support the introduction of such a scheme in England which will help reduce this type of pollution from our streets, countryside and beaches.'

Similar schemes in Denmark and South Australia have increased plastic bottle recycling by up to 90 per cent. 'Reverse vending' machines accept plastic bottles and tin cans, and dispense cash in return. This keeps the focus on the public, rather than shopkeepers who would otherwise have to shoulder the burden.

Industry leaders were less enthusiastic, claiming that 'deposit return vending will hit customers with an upfront charge, pushing up the cost of living to the tune of tens of millions of pounds', said Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium. Similar claims were made prior to the introduction of the hugely successful 5p supermarket plastic bag charge which has reduced the amount of single-use plastic bags by as much as 80 per cent.

Any scheme that promotes recycling and decreases the overall use of plastic is to be commended, and monetising such activities simply makes it a more attractive proposition for people who might otherwise dispose of their plastic in general waste.

Some eight million tonnes of plastic is dumped into our oceans each year, and has been found to be present from the surface down to the deep sea floor, where it finds its way into the stomachs of wide variety of marine creatures, from megafauna such as whales which have been found to be carrying large amounts of plastic bags in their stomachs, to small shellfish which ingest tiny pieces of 'microplastic'. As a result, these small pieces of plastic have already entered the food chain.

 

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