DRS deposit return scheme plastic bottle

The UK government has revealed a deposit return scheme will not start until at least October 2025, and even then only if talks with industry prove it is “feasible”.

A long-awaited consultation response covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland was published today, five years after DRS was first proposed.

As exclusively revealed by The Grocer earlier this week, the plans will cover cans and PET drinks containers but exclude glass, with campaign groups having reacted with outrage.

However, the move has been widely welcomed by industry groups who warned including glass, as originally promised in the Tory manifesto, would have added huge cost and complications to the scheme.

DRS south of the border will now not start until well over two years after the rollout due to go ahead in Scotland in August, and after the next general election, leaving more uncertainty over the scheme. Like Scotland, the Welsh government has decided to include glass in its scheme, raising fears of cross-border chaos.

The joint response described even that as a “stretching target date”.

“We would like to continue to work with industry to assess the feasibility of this date as more detail is developed on the implementation phases of the scheme,” said the consultation response.

However, the government said today’s developments were a key step towards tackling pollution from the 14 billion plastic drinks bottles and nine billion drinks cans consumers each year in the UK, many of which are littered or condemned to landfill.

It aims to ensure 85% fewer drinks containers are discarded as litter within three years of its launch.

Environment minister Rebecca Pow said the scheme would “provide a simple and effective system across the country that helps people reduce litter and recycle more easily, even when on the move”.

Dusan Stojankic, VP of operations at Coca-Cola in Great Britain & Ireland, said it “strongly welcomed” the plans.

“Coca-Cola has long called for a well-designed deposit return scheme that works seamlessly across Great Britain to reduce litter, and enable more packaging to be collected and recycled at the highest quality,” he said. “The plans outlined by Defra are a step to achieving just that.”

BSDA director general Gavin Partington added: “We welcome Defra’s commitment to introducing an all-in can/PET deposit return scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. By kickstarting the UK’s circular economy for drinks containers, the deposit return scheme will help consumers play their part in ensuring the containers they buy are returned for recycling. We look forward to working with officials to help guarantee its success.”

Campaign groups were furious at today’s announcement, with former environment secretary Michael Gove having first committed to the plans in 2018.

Megan Randles, political campaigner at Greenpeace UK, accused the government of “five years of dithering and pollution”.

“This could have been a moment for celebration, and of course for our environment it’s better to have this proposed system rather than nothing,” she said. “But even at the final hurdle, this government bottled it and excluded glass from the scheme.

“In what kind of world is collecting glass drinks containers not an essential part of a system designed to collect drinks containers? It reeks of corporate lobbying – from the kind of companies who talk big on social responsibility, but do everything they can to push the problems they create on to others.”

City to Sea policy manager Steve Hynd said: “There is a pattern emerging in this government’s approach of delays, half-measures and broken promises.” 

However, British Glass said it was disappointed to see  the Welsh government plan to include glass, saying it had major concerns about how the schemes would operate and interact across the UK.

“Defra and the Northern Ireland Executive are absolutely right to keep glass bottles out,” said CEO Dave Dalton.

“Including glass bottles would have led to over two million more tonnes of CO2 in our atmosphere, split glass food and beverage packaging into two waste streams, reduce the amount and the quality of recycled material available to be used again in glass bottles and led to more plastic packaging on the market.”