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The Grapevine

The WSTA's views, distilled.

Why are we against including glass in Deposit Return Scheme?

This week the WSTA has responded to consultations from the UK Government on how best to improve bottle recycling in the UK. However, in light of the Scottish announcement to include glass in their deposit return scheme (DRS) proposals, we have been clear that we do not believe that glass should be included, as it massively increases the costs and complexity of the scheme, in the DRS scheme and we argue that kerbside collections are better for consumers, businesses and the environment.

What is a DRS? A DRS increases the cost of particular products, like glass bottles, which is refunded if you, the customer, return the packaging to a specific location, for example; a registered convenience store or remote vending machine (RVM). The refund might be cash or a token which can be exchanged at a later date. The question is, should we improve the existing kerbside collection system or buy 3,000 RVMs and implement a whole new operation? 

We felt it was important to explain the thinking behind our message back to the Scottish and UK Governments on why a DRS for glass should not make the cut. Let’s start with the obvious, glass is heavy and brittle and more likely to smash in transit. Plastic can be compacted safely by customers and small retailers and carried or thrown into the back of the car in bulk, making it much easier to recycle than glass bottles. Returning glass, en masse, to shops or reverse vending machines (RVMs) to redeem deposits would be difficult for people relying on public transport and even those with cars are likely to find themselves making additional trips. Forcing people to make unnecessary extra journeys in their cars to drive heavy loads for recycling isn’t environmentally friendly or time efficient. Glass will account for 80% of the weight of the scheme but contribute only 7% of material revenue so, as a result of including glass in the Scottish Scheme, customers should expect costs to rise and more travelling to recycle their bottles.

The WSTA supports the continued improvement to kerbside collections which makes it easy for us all to commit to recycling. RVM machines, that accept glass, aren’t going to be cheap and will be hard for smaller shops to purchase and find room to install – we expect some independent shops to go out of business as a result of this policy.

According to research carried out by WRAP - the Waste and Resources Action Programme – people on a lower incomes score the lowest in recycling rates. Switching from kerbside collection to a DRS is not going to make it any easier for more people to participate. A DRS on glass is likely to have a bigger impact on poorer people or those who struggle to leave the home, especially those without cars or who have a nearby machine. If they are unable to redeem their deposits the DRS could end up becoming an unfair tax on the poor.

At a time when Minimum Unit Pricing is being rolled out in Scotland, a policy that disproportionally affects those on lower incomes, the WSTA does not believe that politicians should be adding insult to injury by introducing a new system which would once again unfairly affect the poorest in our society.

The fear is that if glass was included in the DRS it might encourage producers to swap glass for plastic which is cheaper to produce and will be easier for customers to recycle. A DRS for glass will require a new barcode system – which is likely to cost millions to introduce and increase costs on consumers yet again. In Scotland they still aren’t sure if they will include a barcode system – but without it there is nothing to stop fraudulent material crossing the border from England to claim 20p on each bottle! Some producers, on tight margins, may decide to pause trading in Scotland because the Scottish Government has ignored the concerns we have raised regarding the affordability of their proposals which include glass. This is a step in completely the wrong direction and will mean less choice for Scottish customers.

As though it couldn’t get any worse, the Scottish proposals for DRS don’t include all glass packaging, meaning jam jars and some other glass will need to be left in kerbside collections while wine, spirit and beer bottles will need to be taken to shops for customers to get their deposits back. This is going to be a nightmare for consumers as it will be confusing and more costly, as having two systems for glass makes both systems less financially viable.

The UK already exceeds the current targets for recycling and they can be improved further by small changes to the existing system – which are currently being consulted on by the UK Government. Glass is 100% infinitely recyclable, inert, and preferable to plastic because it doesn’t create microplastic pollution. We need to focus on improving glass kerbside and on street collections. We firmly believe the Scottish and UK Government should encourage the use of glass bottling rather than penalise customers for making the more environmentally friendly sustainable choice.

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