By John Crawford

ANY child raised in the 1950/60s will recall the pleasure of finding an empty lemonade bottle that was worth 3d (just over 1p today) when redeemed at the local grocers or café. It was a welcome boost to our pocket money.

We cared little about recycling or saving the planet: our only objective was the money.

But over the years interest waned and Barrs ended their scheme (possibly the last in Scotland) a few years ago when participation rates fell well below 50 per cent (you need >80% participation for these schemes to stack up).

In the 1970s glass was the first household waste stream targeted for recycling. Its basic constituents are cheap and abundant in the UK, but the benefit for the environment is that making ‘new’ product from glass cullet (crushed glass) requires far less energy. So bottle banks proliferated everywhere, often placed at supermarkets to attract families when they came for the weekly shop.

When kerbside recycling was introduced two decades ago, performances shot up (last year the UK recycled around 70% of glass containers with Wales topping the league at 87.3% - probably the best in the world) but it should be recognised that using aluminium and steel cans for beverages, and the pubs moving away from bottled mixers to aerated cordials meant fewer glass bottles being used in recent years.

The Scottish Government has recently spent a lot of time and money promoting a proposed Deposit Return Scheme, designed to recover more plastic containers with an additional benefit of “reducing litter” (a promise that is easier said than delivered).

Every beverage container (glass, plastic or aluminium) will carry a 20p deposit. This deposit will only be reclaimable at “authorised refunders” so not every shop selling beverages will also refund deposits. If you live some distance away from an authorised refunder, it might not always be convenient for you to recover the deposits. Some commentators suspect that those who depend on public transport to get around might simply not bother, but there’s always the safety net that the more responsible householders will continue to use their kerbside recycling services for glass, plastic and aluminium containers. That, however, doesn’t address the issue of these customers having paid an extra 20p/container that they might not always be able to redeem.

But the devil is in the detail: the deposit is to be 20p irrespective of capacity: a multipack of 24 cans will carry a deposit six times that of the equivalent volume available in larger plastic bottles. The plastic industry has estimated that this approach will actually result in more plastic bottles being used, the very opposite of what the scheme is designed to achieve. Germany has already implemented a similar scheme and reports a 60% increase in plastic bottle consumption.

Even if the proposed scheme does work, there seems to have been little thought given to what will happen to the returned beverage containers (apart from glass, and that’s already well catered for). It used to be estimated that the humble milk bottle made between five and seven trips to our homes in its lifetime. That can’t be achieved with plastic bottles, nor do we have the capacity to re-process them.

This scheme hasn’t been thought through properly. For a start, shouldn’t glass containers be excluded? And shouldn’t it be volume-specific?

John Crawford worked in the Scottish waste management industry for several decades