November 2017

Deposits Expert Quizzed by Parliamentary Panel

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Chris Sherrington, our Head of Environmental Policy and Economics, appeared as a witness before the UK Government’s Environmental Audit Committee inquiry into Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups and Plastic Bottles on Tuesday 17th October 2017.

Having led several high-profile research projects into the management of disposable packaging, and its effects as litter on land and in the marine environment, Chris was invited to give evidence on the social, environmental and economic impacts of a Deposit Refund System (DRSs) for beverage containers.

Under a DRS – an approach already operating in a number of other countries – consumers pay a small deposit on purchasing a single-use beverage container (typically aluminium cans, plastic and glass bottles, and in some cases, drinks cartons) which is refunded when they return it to a retailer or other collection point.

Chris noted there is growing public concern about marine plastic pollution – with beverage containers being one of the most frequently found items on beach clean-ups – along with increased public understanding of how a DRS could help tackle this problem. This is partly owing to campaigns from the Daily Mail and Sky. Announcements of support from the Scottish Government, Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Coca Cola, have also pushed the subject of a DRS up the agenda. Recent research by Eunomia has shown a DRS can lead to recycling rates for beverage containers in excess of 90%, and reductions in littering of beverage containers of 95% or more.

Eunomia has carried out a number of studies into the most desirable design features of DRSs, and the effects of DRSs in jurisdictions where they are implemented. It has developed a clear view as to how a scheme should be set up in order to maximise its potential to reduce litter and increase high quality recycling, while minimising costs to producers.  Chris outlined some of the differences to the panel, a recording of the evidence is available online to watch again here.

The following subjects are covered:

  • How a DRS is funded – typically by unredeemed deposits and high-quality material value, with contributions from producers making up the difference
  • What level of return rate might be expected under a DRS – and why some American schemes set up in the 1970s have much lower return rates than more modern schemes like that in Norway
  • How a DRS is instigated – while some were mandated by Governments, the Norwegian system places a tax on beverage containers that falls as the level of recycling increases, acting as an incentive for industry to get together and put in place a well-designed system
  • How a DRS impacts local authority waste services – findings from peer-reviewed research undertaken by Eunomia over the past year shows that local authorities stand to make savings with a well-designed DRS in place
  • How a DRS affects small retailers – ‘handling fees’ can be used to compensate retailers, who often appreciate the return in custom, or some systems instigate shared communal return points.

Commenting on the day, Chris said:

“It’s really encouraging to see the EAC looking into deposit refund systems in such detail. I was delighted to be invited to share insights from the breadth of research Eunomia has carried out in this area, especially given the rising concern and knowledge about the impact disposable packaging is having on the natural environment. I am really looking forward to hearing the outcome of this inquiry and I’m hopeful it will result in recommendations for policy interventions that will boost recycling and help to safeguard our oceans.”

The Environmental Audit Committee is a cross party select committee of the House of Commons tasked with examining how government policy will impact on the environment.