What Is the Deposit Return System?
In April 2018, I had the wonderful opportunity to work for APRS (Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland) during their 'Have You Got the Bottle Campaign?' in Edinburgh ZOO. For two weeks we were stationed near an old rhino transportation crate, which was now meant to be filled with plastic bottles, to raise awareness of the deposit return system, plastic waste and its effects on nature and wildlife. To demonstrate how the system works, visitors could bring their empty plastic bottles to the crate and receive 10 pence as a reward for each bottle that they returned. Thanks to the visitors and ZOO staff we managed to collect 1,162 bottles in two weeks, to raise awareness and inspire a lot of conversations about plastic waste and ways to improve our wasteful lifestyles.
Deposit return systems are a way to increase the recycling rate of drinks containers (plastic bottles, aluminium cans, glass bottles and possibly other types of drinks containers too). The cost of bottled and canned drinks go up by 10p for example (that's the deposit) and once you have finished your drink, you bring the container back to be recycled after which you will get this 10p deposit back. Returning the drinks containers would be made easy: you could hopefully take your empty drinks containers either to your local shop, use reverse vending machines in larger supermarkets or, if you prefer buying food online, give empty drinks containers for the delivery driver and get your deposit back. What is a reverse vending machine, you may ask? It is a machine, where you can put your drinks containers. The machine then identifies the type of container by reading the barcode of the container, adds up the deposits from the containers you returned and gives you a receipt, which states how much money you will get back. You can usually use this receipt when paying in the same shop or ask them to give it back to you in cash.
I am originally from Finland, where we have had this system for decades and I practically grew up knowing nothing else. In Finland the deposit for small bottles and cans is roughly about 15-20 cents and for big plastic bottles around 40 cents and if you take into consideration the fact that Finnish people return about 1.7 billion drinks containers through this system every year, you will realise that the amounts of money that we are talking about are quite significant (1). 90% of drinks containers are returned in Finland through bottle deposit return system and the numbers are very similar in other countries using a similar scheme (Germany, Estonia, Sweden etc). In the UK, 35 million plastic bottles are used EVERY DAY and 16 million of these are NOT RECYCLED (2)! Imagine if this number could be brought up to 90% - 31,500,000 bottles would be recycled and a huge amount of material would go back to be reused. Luckily the bottle deposit return systems are coming to our aid!
The APRS has been working on introducing bottle deposit return systems into Scotland for a while and it is exciting to see that not only has the Scottish Government committed to put it in place, but that the rest of the UK might soon follow suit. Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) is a governmental body responsible for finding ways to minimise waste in Scotland and to make Scotland into a circular economy nation. They are also responsible for coming up with a bottle deposit return system design that is suitable for Scotland. You can read their Deposit Return Feasibility Study here. On the 27th of June ZWS opened public consultation on the matter - they want to ensure that the system designed will work for everyone. If you are in Scotland, it is very important that you take part in the consultation before 25th September 2018 if you want to have a say in the matter (link below).
Take part in Zero Waste Scotland Deposit Return System Public Consultation here.
In our busy lives, it is easy to ignore the environment and the impact of our daily choices. I think that the deposit return system can help people in Scotland and in the UK to realise the value of the materials that we throw away - at least that is what is has done in Finland and no doubt in all the other countries with a similar system. I was shocked to move to Scotland 6 years ago and see people throwing cans and bottles into normal bins, mixing food waste with general waste and just to witness the excessive amount of plastic everywhere!
Introducing a deposit return system into Scotland and eventually in the rest of the UK too will not only help recover more reusable materials and to minimise contamination of recyclables but it will also reduce litter and plastic pollution, help tackle climate change and help to create a circular economy. The deposit return system is estimated to create around 3,000-4,300 more jobs UK-wide (3) and help local councils reduce their waste disposal and cleaning costs (4).
I am very excited to see the deposit return systems come to Scotland in 2019 - it will no doubt be a big step towards a more sustainable and circular society.