Government plans to launch a deposit return scheme (DRS) for all drinks bottles in order to cut plastics pollution could make household recycling collections uneconomic, local authorities have warned.
The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (Larac) fear the scheme would divert plastic bottles out of their collections and damage the viability of recycling services.
Environment secretary Michael Gove committed the Government to introducing a DRS later this year following consultation on its operation.
Gove said UK consumers used some 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year, of which three billion were incinerated, sent to landfill or left as litter.
Similar schemes operate in countries including Denmark, Sweden and Germany, where consumers redeem a deposit when they return a container, often to reverse vending machines, which Gove said had helped to deliver a 97% recycling rate in Germany.
He said: “We can be in no doubt that plastic is wreaking havoc on our marine environment – killing dolphins, choking turtles and degrading our most precious habitats. It is absolutely vital we act now to tackle this threat and curb the millions of plastic bottles a day that go unrecycled.”
But Larac said evidence was inconclusive on the benefits of a DRS and warned that it might make councils’ recycling collections uneconomic.
”The evidence so far for the UK has not shown how a general scheme can be undertaken without cannibalising council kerbside material.”
Chair Carole Taylor said: “Larac supports full producer responsibility and a DRS could be a step in that direction.
“The evidence so far for the UK has not shown how a general scheme can be undertaken without cannibalising council kerbside material.
“Local authorities provide comprehensive collection schemes for the materials that a DRS would target. Our first step should be to put funds into these from producers to increase kerbside performance even further.”
She asked for Government assurances that any scheme would be considered as part of the forthcoming resource and waste strategy and not in isolation, and that the consultation would include the option of not proceeding with such a scheme.
Local Government Association environment spokesman Martin Tett said: “If these proposals are to be a success, it is essential that they work alongside kerbside recycling and are not seen as an alternative to it.
“The forthcoming consultation should ensure that these new proposals do not impact on local recycling.”
These concerns were echoed by Recycling Association chief executive Simon Ellin, who said: “We must be careful we do not throw the baby out with the bath water.
“We need to understand what this will mean for the entire domestic recycling system. For example, how will local authorities replace what is a valuable revenue stream for them, and could this make collections of other material such as cardboard and paper uneconomic for local authorities?
“Could this then make the quality of other material worse if collection systems cannot be properly funded?”
Ellin said Defra should look at the whole recycling system – not just drinks containers – and see if a DRS could be part of that.
Environmental Services Association executive director Jacob Hayler said: “The biggest priority for the recycling industry remains greater support for end markets for recycled materials. There is no point recovering all this material if there is nowhere for it to go, and particular consideration is needed for material left to be collected at the kerbside if a DRS is introduced.”
Hayler said he agreed with Larac that consideration of a DRS should be part of the resources and waste strategy.
Alupro executive director Rick Hindley said: “Aluminium packaging is already widely recycled; 70% of beverage cans are currently recycled, and independent research shows that in 12 years the existing collection infrastructure will deliver a 90% recycling rate for all aluminium packaging.”