Singling Out Single-Use Plastics

Overflowing Rubbish Bins

Earlier this week, environment secretary Michael Gove announced a consultation for developing a deposit return scheme (DRS) for plastic drinks bottles. The scheme, which will be similar to those running in parts of Europe and American states, will add a small levy to the price of plastic PET bottles. The charge of 10-30p, depending on the size of the container, will be returned to the customer upon returning the container to a collection point.

Recycling Rates

After mounting public pressure and media interest, Gove announced the plans at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Defra has established a group to investigate current DRSs and packaging types that could be included in the recycling programme. The group is taking consultation from all who have an interest in the topic to help develop a practical system for UK.

The scheme is being developed in a bid to reduce littering and increase recycling of single-use drinks containers. Currently only 57% of plastic bottles are being recycled in the UK, falling short of the government target of 75% by 2017. 

European Models

Germany boasts 98.5% of bottles being returned for recycling and, although it is difficult to provide statistics, claims that littering has been reduced tremendously. Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark all have well established DRSs for PET bottles, aluminium cans and glass. It’s not clear at this point if Gove is to copy one of these successful systems or devise a new scheme.

The German model works well but, at a cost of €726m, it was expensive to implement and costs a further €793m to maintain each year – paid for by retailers. It has been estimated that a similar model in the UK would cost at least £1bn to set up and similar costs to maintain each year – although whether that would be paid for by retailers, consumers or the government is not yet clear. 

Habits and Markets

The carrier bag tax, introduced in October 2015, reduced the number of single-use carrier bags being used by 85% in the first six months. In Germany, fizzy drink consumption fell 9.1% and energy drink sales stalled in the first year of the DRS being implemented, leading to fears of a similar effect on UK markets. 

In the UK, the focus is more on bottled water – sales of which have more than quadrupled in the last 20 years (this year bottled water outsold cola for the first time). The fizzy drinks market is set to decline as the planned sugar tax comes into effect next year, and more emphasis will be put on how unhealthy many of our favourite drinks are.


For the plastics industry, it’s an interesting time to consider the future of plastics. Hopefully, these systems will increase the amount of plastic being recycled as well as the manufacturing of products made with recycled material within the UK. As a plastics manufacturer who uses recycled materials, we know that there is a lot more that can be done to improve recycling rates in the UK. We will certainly be putting our heads together to discuss the practical implications of the system and offering any useful suggestions we have to Gove’s consultation group. 

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