We all want to live in a clean, unpolluted litter-free society, but what is the best way of cleaning up our environment?
The Scottish Government is considering introducing a deposit return system (DRS) to boost recycling of drinks containers and reduce litter. The civil servants declare it could be the next "big thing" after carrier bag charges but have yet to hear evidence from industry, business and local authorities.
It's not a big thing. Drinks containers account for just 6.5 per cent of litter, according to Keep Scotland Beautiful. Importantly, the DRS would do nothing to change attitudes or behaviour, which is the best - possibly the only - way truly to prevent littering and give people pride in their environment.
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The Packaging Recycling Group Scotland (PRGS) shares the Scottish Government's ambitions to recycle more and tackle litter. It thinks a DRS is not right for this country. Instead, it presented a Packaging Resource Commitment to the Government last year to tackle litter and achieve drink container recycling rates of 80 per cent by 2025, exceeding government targets.
Scottish recycling rates compare favourably with the rest of the UK, and kerbside collections are a mainstay of recycling effort. Projections for the future, by leading environmental consultancy ERM in a report commissioned by Coca Cola, estimate that the rate for recycling beverage containers will rise from 43 per cent to 73 per cent by 2017.
PRGS member AG Barr, has operated a deposit return scheme for refillable containers for the last 140 years. The number of people returning containers has decreased and significantly dropped in 2012 when the Government added glass bottles to kerbside collections. The return rate fell from 65 per cent in 2012 to 54 per cent at present, even though the deposit has risen from 20p to 30p.
The proposed DRS is not the simple scheme from our childhoods when you took empties to the shop to be collected and refilled. Rather than focusing on reuse, it is an alternative recycling collection method, which requires people to walk past the recycling bins at their front door and return all drinks containers to shops.
It is inconvenient at best and virtually impossible to manage for anyone with mobility issues. It places a barrier that does not exist with kerbside collections.
Supporters of a DRS argue it might encourage those who do not recycle at present. A ComRes poll shows half of Scots initially support a system, and a more recent poll carried out by Survation suggests this figure is higher. However, when questioned, Scots have concerns about the inconvenience and extra burden and would favour an improved local authority collection scheme.
And there will be costs. Unlike carrier bag charges, which are avoidable, a deposit on all drinks containers is not. Costs will increase with a 20p deposit, almost doubling the cost of a 30-can multi pack of soft drinks. A daily bottle of milk will cost an extra £1.40 per week. Additional costs to set up the system and protect it from fraud would also need covered. And the cost of unredeemed deposits is estimated at £87 million per year, or £36.50 per household .
Retailers would have to create space to install reverse vending machines or store empties for collection. An estimated 2,700 special machines will be required at around a cost of £32,000 each.
Local authorities would lose the scrap value of bottles and cans but still need to collect household waste and other recycling. This could increase council tax rates, passing on another cost to the consumer.
PRGS is not anti-deposits. It works in some countries for a limited range of containers, but it's not right for Scotland; it will only increase the cost to consumers, councils and business while diverting attention away from systems that work.
We don't want the status quo either. We have more than 30 leading members who are committed to working in partnership with the Government, local authorities, Cosla, Keep Scotland Beautiful, ZWS and others, to build on existing systems and increase recycling of all materials and tackle litter.
Only through this partnership approach, and harnessing the communications and marketing reach of our members, can we influence and change consumer behaviour.
Jane Bickerstaffe is spokeswoman for the PRGS.