After many years of campaigning for a deposit return scheme, the UK is finally taking real steps towards the introduction of deposit return schemes. Seas At Risk member, the Marine Conservation Society, is hopeful that deposit return schemes will soon be in place across the UK. With yet more countries taking this crucial step to reduce pollution from beverage containers, it increases the pressure on the EU to make this mandatory for all countries.
 
The Scottish Government led the way for the UK, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announcing in September 2017 that Scotland would implement a deposit return system. This was after two years of tireless campaigning by the ‘Have You Got The Bottle?’ coalition, of which the Marine Conservation Society was a founding member. Scotland is now at the stage of designing a suitable system.  
 
In March of this year, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, announced his plan to introduce a deposit return scheme for England. This is welcome news but the work is far from over. During the upcoming consultation process, certain elements of the drinks and plastics industries which oppose deposit return systems will undoubtedly work to derail efforts to bring in a useful and effective system. Continued efforts are required from campaigners, therefore, to ensure that a fit-for-purpose scheme will actually be implemented.
 
The best system is one that will give the country the greatest increase in high quality recycling and an associated decrease in litter. It should include, at a minimum, glass, plastic and metal drinks containers of all sizes, as well as providing for the inclusion of other materials such as tetrapaks and new materials. The scheme should also have the option for review and extension in order to ensure that it continues to drive container returns.
 
It is imperative that Scotland and England coordinate their actions and harmonise the schemes so that a consumer can return a bottle or can in London in exactly the same manner as in Edinburgh. Ideally, Wales and Northern Ireland should introduce similar schemes simultaneously, allowing systems to operate smoothly across the whole of the UK. 
 
The campaigns in Scotland and England have been driven by multiple NGOs working together for a number of years. Recently, however, a number of factors have combined to create a perfect storm of awareness, with calls for change coming from all areas in society. 
 
UK politicians have adopted the rhetoric of wanting to make a difference, with the current government stating that its vision ‘to be the first generation to leave our environment better than we found it'. This is against the backdrop of a difficult socio-political climate, where the focus is firmly on the daily challenges presented by Brexit and there are few good news stories on either the progression or direction of that change.  
 
For over 20 years, the Marine Conservation Society has organised beach cleans and surveys, and the data supplied by their thousands of volunteers played a big part in proving the need for a deposit return scheme. Plastic and glass bottles, aluminium cans, and bottle caps always feature high on the list of items collected in any beach clean. Last year alone, during the Great British Beach Clean, volunteers gathered 3,540 plastic bottles, 2,674 cans and 11,154 plastic bottle tops from British beaches, adding up to 57 items of drink-related litter for every 100m surveyed, and 10% of all litter. It is not only these volunteers who understand the scale of the problem: a YouGov survey commissioned by the Marine Conservation Society showed 73% support from the British public for a deposit return scheme. 
 
The importance of the media in highlighting the problems of marine plastics should not be underestimated. Recent watersheds in the national consciousness were Sky’s Ocean Rescue programmes and, in particular, the David Attenborough wildlife documentary, Blue Planet II, which brought the impact of plastic consumption on the marine environment to an audience of millions. 

Across the EU at present, there is little consistency in either policy or practice with regard to deposit return schemes. While a number of Member States have had schemes in place for various kinds of beverage containers for many years, they all function differently, and many countries have no scheme at all. Studies show that deposit return schemes produce high quality material streams for recycling, as well as reducing beverage container-related littering. The upcoming EU legislation to tackle the top 10 litter items most commonly found on beaches provides an ideal opportunity to introduce measures to encourage deposit return schemes for beverage containers in all Member States.

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