Deposit return schemes could save councils millions, study claims

Introducing deposit return schemes (DRS) for beer cans and soft drink bottles in England could help save local authorities £35m, according to a new study.

The study by consultants Eunomia is based on data from eight local authorities across England and claims councils could make savings of between £60,000 and £500,000 by introducing such a DRS.

The report was written for a consortium of groups, including Keep Britain Tidy, Surfers Against Sewage and the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

It also says local authorities would lose some income as there would be a reduced number of cans and plastic bottles in the kerbside collections to sell to recyclers.

However, the savings made from having fewer containers to collect and sort, as well as reduced levels of littering and reduced landfill charges will actually create savings that outweigh the loss of revenue.

Speaking at an event to launch the study in Westminster, the chair of Eunomia, Dominic Hogg, said introducing DRS schemes could increase the recycling rates of cans and plastic bottles to up to 95%.

He admitted some waste collection authorities could be worse off if DRS schemes were rolled out across the country, but added ‘disposal authorities are much more likely to be better off’.

He also said DRS schemes improve the quality of available recyclate for manufacturers.

‘There are people who are making beverage containers today, who are proudly saying they are using a lot of recycled content and that they don’t want a deposit scheme,’ said Mr Hogg.

‘But where is their material coming from? It’s coming from Norway and their deposit schemes,’ he added. ‘If we want really good material, this is a good way of getting that high quality material back, which can help support jobs in our economy.’

Survey ‘too small’

Mr Hogg also dismissed claims by the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) that the number of councils used in the report was too small.

The chair of LARAC, Andrew Bird, said the headline savings in the report are ‘unlikely to be achieved to the levels stated in the real world’.

‘LARAC believes that producer responsibility should be extended in the UK, but in the case of packaging and in particular, beverage containers, through the robust and consistent collection services provided by local authorities and their partners from the private waste industry.

‘Investment in on the go recycling infrastructure and communications could be a much more meaningful way of producers really helping to make a difference and cut local authority costs,’ said Mr Bird.

But Mr Hogg said he did not believe they ‘would have learned more’ with a larger group of councils.

Also speaking at the launch event, the technical development director at Suez Recovery and Recycling, Stuart Hayward-Higham, said DRS programmes should not be introduced in isolation, but should be part of a wider recycling system.

‘If we do it as a political expediency, we are going to end up with unintended consequences,’ said Mr Hayward-Higham.

‘It could be people climbing into bins, scavenging and creating their own health and safety rusks It could be tipping bins over and creating more litter, because people don’t want to climb into bins, so we have to understand value in terms of driving behaviours.’

The chief executive of Keep Britain Tidy, Alison Ogden-Newton, commented: ‘There is no doubt that introducing a deposit refund system would reduce littering in this country but, until now, there has been a concern that it would have a negative impact on cash-strapped councils. This report shows that in fact a DRS would create savings for local government.’

The report comes as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is holding a consultation on possible incentives to help increase the recycling of drinks containers, which closes on 30 October.

And last month, the Scottish Government also announced plans to introduce a DRS for bottles and cans.

Jamie Hailstone

Jamie Hailstone

journalist

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