PET plastic bottles

Iceland and the Co-op have broken ranks to come out in support of a bottle deposit return system (DRS) in the UK as a way of tackling plastic pollution of the oceans.

The retailers also called for rivals to join in their support for DRS against what Iceland called a “ticking time bomb for humanity”.

Previously retail leaders have been staunchly opposed to DRS, which was mooted for the UK by environment secretary Michael Gove in October, following a previous decision by the Scottish government to push ahead with a scheme.

The new announcements came in a response to a Greenpeace survey of supermarkets’ views about the potential introduction of a UK-wide DRS system.

Iceland said it “fully supports Greenpeace’s call for the government to impose a bottle deposit return scheme”. The supermarket also offered to host DRS reverse vending machines within its stores for the government to trial.

Richard Walker, director of sustainability at Iceland, said: “Every minute, a truckload of plastic waste enters our oceans. In Britain, we are failing to recycle up to 16 million single-use plastic bottles every day.

“This cannot carry on. It is causing untold damage to our oceans and wildlife. It is also a ticking time bomb for humanity, since we all ultimately depend on a healthy ocean environment for our own survival.

“Deposit return schemes work. In Norway, theirs has led to 96% of all bottles being returned, with similar results in other countries that have adopted a DRS. Britain urgently needs to do the same.

“Introducing a DRS may well add to our costs of doing business. However, we believe it is a small price to pay for the long-term sustainability of this planet. I urge all other retailers to do the right thing and follow suit.”

The Co-op said it was “in favour of creating a deposit return scheme which increases the overall recycling of packaging and significantly reduces litter and, importantly, helps tackle marine pollution”.

“We are committed to ensuring all of our own packaging will be recyclable and we are firm supporters of initiatives designed to boost recycling levels,” said Co-op retail chief executive Jo Whitfield.

She added: “We look forward to working with others, including government, local authorities, manufacturers and other retailers, to help design a scheme that delivers in all these areas.”

Greenpeace said all other national supermarkets surveyed, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, M&S, Lidl, Aldi and Morrisons, were either non-committal or expressed reservations about DRS in their replies.

Previously the BRC has warned DRS systems will directly result in price rises on the shelves, hitting hard-pressed shoppers as well as imposing costs on retailers

Greenpeace campaigner Louise Edge said: “It is possible to prevent throwaway plastic polluting our rivers and oceans, but to achieve this we really need companies to step up to the plate.

“That’s why it’s brilliant to see Iceland and the Co-op coming out in favour of deposit return schemes - one of the tried and tested solutions needed to end the ocean plastic pollution crisis.

“Iceland and Co-op have shown some vision and set the standard - now it’s time for other companies to follow suit and start publicly backing deposit return schemes.”