DRS deposit return scheme

It was welcome news to finally receive a UK-wide policy statement on a deposit return scheme (DRS) by the governments of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland last week. Especially for those in the industry who, like my company, have spent the past seven years calling for the introduction of a well-designed scheme to boost the recycling of drinks containers.

The policy statement provided us with much-needed clarity as to how DRS can become a reality. It set out common rules on key issues such as labelling, deposit levels and set-up requirements – which will ensure alignment and interoperability of schemes across the four nations. It provides a pragmatic and practical framework in which we can work. Finally, the confirmed start date of October 2027 is starting to feel realistic and achievable.

As a business, we have an ambition to collect every single can and bottle we put on the market. And we know the only way to do this is through DRS.

There are still some naysayers out there who are questioning the role DRS can play in supporting the circular economy. Others are promoting untested alternative systems. But we know from our experiences around the globe that DRS is a well-established and proven way for beverage companies to collect more of their materials; deliver the right quality to ensure more packaging is recycled back into new containers; and tackle the blight of litter, which frustrates us all.

There is no big secret as to how DRS can be made to work. It’s a reality in more than 40 countries already – and schemes are launching on a regular basis across Europe. You only need to look at the successful rollout of DRS in the Republic of Ireland earlier this year. A combination of simplicity, collaboration and pragmatism ensured that drinks companies, retailers and government worked closely together to get that industry-led scheme operational.

I was in the Republic of Ireland last month and saw for myself how consumers are embracing this new recycling behaviour, and how canny retailers are using DRS as an important footfall driver. In the first few weeks since launch, the scheme administrator reckons some 50 million containers have already been collected for recycling. It’s a great start. And it shows that when government partners with businesses, we can deliver an efficient, industry-led scheme that helps to drive circularity.

For those of us in the UK, the only remaining challenge is the lack of full alignment on material scope. Wales still intends to include glass in its DRS. Whilst we are clearly sympathetic to the Welsh government’s ambitious environmental agenda, we do believe it’s critical that all four nations coalesce around the greater goal of creating a consistent DRS across the UK. Otherwise we will not have true interoperability or deliver the best outcomes for the environment, consumers and businesses.

Frankly, we all bear some scars from the unsuccessful launch of a scheme in Scotland, and none of us want to go through that experience again. Instead, it’s time for all governments and industry to work together to ensure DRS moves forward, at pace, with consistency of materials in scope. That will give businesses the certainty we need to roll up our collective sleeves and get on with the task of delivering a scheme by October 2027.