A deposit return scheme aimed at slashing plastic pollution has moved significantly closer after environment secretary Michael Gove said he would work with the industry to see how a scheme can be implemented in England.
Gove, speaking at the Conservative party conference in Manchester, announced a four-week call for views to inform how a deposit return scheme (DRS) would be designed. The government’s working group on the issue will also consider DRS for metal and glass containers.
Over eight million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans every year, with 80% coming from land. Plastic bottles are a major contributor; in June the Guardian revealed that a million are made every minute and the rate is rising quickly, with annual consumption forecast to top half a trillion by 2021.
In Germany and Denmark, which have DRS schemes, more than 90% of bottles are returned. In England, just 57% of plastic bottles are recycled, mostly through streetside collection schemes. Gove was pressured this summer by opposition parties and NGOs to introduce a DRS in England, and Nicola Sturgeon announced in September that Scotland would introduce a DRS.
“We must protect our oceans and marine life from plastic waste if we are to be the first generation to leave our environment in a better state than we found it,” Gove said. “We want to hear people’s ideas on how we could make [a DRS] work in England.” In September, Gove said a plastic bottle DRS was a “great idea” but it was vital to devise a programme “that others can buy into”.
Gove noted the huge reduction in plastic bag use resulting from the 5p charge placed on single-use bags, and that the government was drawing up “one of the world’s toughest bans on plastic microbeads”. The DRS working group has been asked to report early in the new year.
“The continuous stream of disposable plastic bottles running into our oceans has been growing alarmingly,” said Greenpeace oceans campaigner Elena Polisano. “We urgently need solutions, and we think a DRS is probably the best way to raise the collection rate.”
Coca-Cola is one of the world’s biggest producers of plastic bottles and in February reversed its opposition to a DRS in Scotland. In July, the company announced it would use more recycled plastic in its bottles. However, on Monday Greenpeace revealed that Coca-Cola has increased its production of plastic bottles by a billion in the last year.
Louise Edge, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace, said: “Coca-Cola talks the talk on sustainability but the astonishing rate at which it is pumping out single-use plastic bottles is still growing.”