Iceland DRS

Industry leaders have warned the cost of rolling out the scheme would be a disaster when added to the cost of coronavirus

The government this week began renewed talks with industry about how to get a controversial bottle deposit return system (DRS) off the ground, despite the “drastic” impact of coronavirus.

Defra held the first in a series of meetings with industry this week as it looks to get DRS up and running by 2023, despite industry leaders warning the predicted £2.2bn cost of installing an estimated 30,000 DRS machines across the UK would be a disaster when added to the cost of coronavirus. Meanwhile the BRC has responded to the Labour Party’s Energy, Environment and Culture Policy Commission on Green Recovery, urging new leader Keir Starmer to campaign for a rethink on the government’s Resources & Waste Strategy.

Its submission warns Covid-19 has “drastically transformed” how people shop and caused massive extra costs for retailers, with in-store safety measures up to the end of March alone estimated by the BRC to be greater than £150m.

Supermarket bosses are hoping they can persuade Labour to help torpedo the plans, alongside government proposals for a plastic tax, which they claim will lead to customers facing higher prices in the middle of an economic downturn. As well as the cost of DRS, the BRC told the commission it had serious concerns about the timescale of the strategy, which includes plans for a tax on single-use packaging with less than 30% recycled content, also due to come in for 2023.

“We share the government’s objectives of increasing recycling and tackling all forms of waste, including packaging, plastics, textiles and electronics,” says the BRC submission. “However, we believe this should be achieved by sequencing proposals in the Waste and Resources Strategy.”

It says it is vital for proposed revisions to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), also proposed by the government but due to come in after DRS and the plastic tax, to be implemented first, under reforms of the UK packaging producer responsibility system.

“This will provide additional funds to promote recycling, consumer communications and ensure collections by Local Authorities,” says the document.

The BRC warns if introduction of the plastic tax comes before EPR reform it will lead to an increase in material prices and costs in stores, without enough recycled material being available at scale for businesses to use.

“It will be a tax that many customers will ultimately pay for through increased prices,” it concludes.

The Scottish government recently pushed back the implementation date of its DRS to at least July 2022, citing concerns over the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.