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A tourist with a backpack and in a baseball cap on the street throws a plastic bottle into a container with waste.

Who Will Pay the £1 Billion Bill for UK Bottle and Can Deposit Returns?

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Major supermarkets and many retailers like the idea of the government’s plan, but questions remain.

Primary among those questions is who will pay for the expensive bottle and can deposit return plan.

Costly Plans

U.K. retailers cautioned the government that implementation of the bottle and can deposit return plan could cost £1 billion. The largest supermarkets have stated that they would be willing to work on the scheme with environment secretary Michael Gove.

The idea is to have consumers throughout the United Kingdom paying a deposit on cans and bottles. That said, when they return those bottles and cans to stores, the deposit is refunded.

Equally, retailers have warned that there is a considerable amount of work involved in implementing a deposit return system (DRS). The retail industry was unimpressed when Gove gave a broad outline for the DRS but did not provide much in terms of details.

A Cost-Effective DRS

“We support a cost-effective deposit return system and are working with a number of partners to explore how this can operate at scale. DRS is one part of the holistic approach that is needed to reduce waste and increase recycling in the UK,” said a Tesco spokesperson.

Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, and Morrisons have all expressed their own willingness to work with the government to create a plan based on the proposals.

That said, there are a number of very central issues that have yet to be worked out for the plan. The most important among them is that the plan doesn’t state who will pay for its implementation. It points out that “reverse vending machines” could be used, but not who will pay for their purchase.

With those machines, a consumer will bring empty bottles and cans back to any participating store – regardless of whether or not that’s where the purchase was made – and they will receive a refund of the deposit.

£1 Billion DRS Plan

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), the U.K. retailer trade group, estimated that the cost of implementation would reach between £900 million and £1 billion to implement throughout the United Kingdom. It encouraged ministers to work with the Scottish government in developing the plan.

Last September, that government had already announced its own intentions to roll out a DRS program.

“We are pleased the government has said any scheme will be based on evidence and any costs for consumers and retailers will be proportionate,” said BRC director of food and sustainability policy, Andrew Opie. “It is important it co-ordinates work with the Scottish government, which is further ahead with its planning. The government needs to be creative in its thinking, for example, by using municipal sites and not just shops in town centres to tackle littering.”

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Alvexo on the matter.