Next year, Austria and the Republic of Ireland will launch a deposit return scheme. They are expected to follow the likes of Sweden, Lithuania, Croatia, Germany and other countries further afield in achieving return rates of 90%-plus, as they follow the tried and tested methodologies of one another.
Not so the United Kingdom, where DRS is in danger of becoming like HS2: stuck in the buffers, going nowhere fast, as ministers and civil servants from each of the devolved nations choose to do it their own hubristic ways, without a thought for best practice and the value of collaboration with industry experts.
This is a tragedy. The UK urgently needs more recycled material, and if we could achieve a joined-up, well-invested and well-run national recycling infrastructure, we could actually (and ironically) benefit from coming so late to the party, not only learning from others but taking advantage of new technology to achieve this.
To do that, however, we need a viable framework, as Anthesis argues in our cover story this week, in which the government sets the outcomes (and consequences) but (like all successful schemes out there) lets the industry get on with running and delivering it.
The framework also needs to be pragmatic in terms of value, collecting more of the right materials at the right price, rather than seeking gold-plated nirvana. And the value for money equation again harks back to HS2. As much as consumers support the idea of a DRS in principle, research for The Grocer shows they don’t want it at any price. Because however it’s funded (tax, deposits or producers paying for materials or infrastructure), it’s consumers who will end up paying.
To be cost-effective, therefore, any DRS we introduce will need to be simple and cheap to run. And the trouble with reverse vending machines is not just the cost of installing and maintaining them. It’s the fact you are setting up a second and parallel collection system to kerbside. That risks fatally undermining the economics of kerbside collection too. But as the early results from trials of a digital deposit return scheme in Brecon roll in, it’s looking like DDRS will be able to track and administer the deposits while doubling down on kerbside, which would keep a lid on costs.
So we need one UK recycling scheme, supervised by the four nations, but with an industry-backed not-for-profit to build consensus, and deliver against the government’s targets.
It’s a scheme that would incorporate EPR, DDRS and DRS, with the latter acting as a top-up to include some supermarkets but whose main focus will be on-the-go locations, including leisure and hospitality venues as well as convenience stores. And the top-up DRS element of the scheme would obviously not include glass, as it’s not predominantly an on-the-go material.
Of course this system would not be perfect. For example, solutions would need to be found to ensure material is of the necessary quality and consistency. But these are the rudiments of a system that would be cheaper, simpler, more modern and more effective in delivering the long-term outcomes we all want.