Shelley Harris, commercial director at IPP, asks if we will have the ‘bottle for change’

Shelley Harris Pierre

06 June 2023

In her latest thought leadership article, Shelley Harris, commercial director at IPP, asks if we will have the ‘bottle for change’ when it comes to sending zero waste to landfill.

We’d all love to be ‘zero heroes’ when it comes to recycling items which will otherwise become single-use and end up in landfill or water courses, at huge cost to the environment.

We nostalgically hark back to the 1970s to when we had a ready-made recycling scheme from home, where milk was delivered in reusable glass bottles on electric floats as part of an early form of an eco-friendly circular economy.

Likewise fizzy pop, delivered and collected from people’s homes, utilised a deposit scheme allowing households to deduct the cost of the next drinks if the bottle was re-used. This in turn encouraged enterprising youngsters to collect abandoned pop bottles and take them to corner shops to redeem a few pence to supplement their pocket money.

Cost to the planet

This was all before it was decided that milk sold in plastic bottles in supermarkets and corner shops was cheaper, along with carbonated drinks in cans and plastic bottles. With the benefit of hindsight, both commercial decisions turned out to be vastly more expensive in terms of the cost to the planet.

Now we learn that DEFRA’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for recyclable materials, which is already set to be introduced seven years after it was originally proposed in 2025, will not include glass in England.

Instead, consumers will pay a deposit fee for plastic bottled and canned drinks at the point of sale, which will be redeemed when they return the container to a reverse vending machine (RVM) at the store on the next visit.

Businesses wanting to act as deposit management organisations (DMOs) will tender to the government to get the operation up and running.

Although designed to incentivise returns, at £100,000 per RVM and a row bubbling up over the exclusion of glass from the scheme in England, it’s hard to see a joined-up strategy across the UK.

Creating conflict

It seems rather the opposite, creating conflict within the packaging industry and across the devolved powers of the UK without any clear evidence that people will embrace the scheme by remembering to bring their bottles back.

There is, however, a growing appetite for a home solution, with the added bonus of smartphone technology allowing consumers to redeem their initial deposits.

For solutions to work, there has to be consistency of approach and consensus from policy makers to the packaging manufacturers and ultimately, the consumer. Collaborative solutions, like those in the circular economy, mean everyone is on board rather than at odds with each other.

To achieve this, central government needs to have the bottle to bring everyone together under one unified scheme that works both home and away so that we can all be zero heroes.