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Small shops say deposit return scheme 'unworkable'

Smaller retailers have warned that a manual deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers will be unworkable.

Reacting to the Government consultation on a DRS, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) said the network it envisaged of reverse vending machines and manual return points hosted by retailers “would not be a practical solution”.

Chief executive James Lowman said: “We welcome the Government’s acknowledgement that reverse vending machines may not be economically or practically viable for small stores, but requiring those stores to take part in a manual return system would be extremely problematic.

“Issues our members have identified include a lack of space to store returned containers, hygiene problems from handling dirty containers, colleagues having to deal with potentially hundreds of returned containers every day, and the queues and customer disruption this could cause.”

The consultation outlines two possible models for a DRS: ‘all-in’ to target beverages placed on the market, irrespective of container size, or ‘on-the-go’, only for containers of less than 750ml and sold singly.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England welcomed the prospect of a DRS. Litter programme director Samantha Harding said retailers and packagers successfully lobbied against similar legislation in 1981 and, since then, “consumption has sky-rocketed while recycling has flat-lined; our countryside, rivers and oceans are choked with plastic”.

“By introducing a DRS that accepts and collects every single can and bottle, [environment secretary] Michael Gove has a golden opportunity to end growing scepticism around current recycling methods by boosting recycling rates of drinks cans and bottles to near perfection.”

David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of Suez Recycling and Recovery UK, said: “DRSs are a useful component of a circular economy but, to make a lasting impact, they must sit within a wider extended producer responsibility regime which drives change at the design stage for products and which properly funds recycling systems.”

He added: “Suez believes that producers should bear the full cost of what they place on the market, which may include the cost of operating a DRS, alongside existing council recycling systems.”

The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee said it was pleased that a DRS was being considered, but said “more work needs to be done to understand the impacts on council kerbside systems” if such a scheme were to remove materials from council collections.

Truls Haug, managing director of Tomra Collection Solutions UK & Ireland, the company with the largest market share for reverse vending machines, said: “Of the two options presented within the consultation, we support the ‘all-in’ model because we believe this would have maximum impact on increasing recycling rates.

“Successful DRSs can play a significant role in sparking a recycling revolution, and we will be watching with interest to see the consultation results in due course.”

Friends of the Earth’s plastic campaigner Julian Kirby said: “A DRS is long-overdue – it has been successful in other countries, it’s popular with the public and it will cut the amount of bottles and cans chucked out each year. The scheme must cover all containers, not just small ones.”

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