Deposit Return Scheme

Introduction

A Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) would facilitate the public to return plastic bottles and metal cans to reverse vending machines where they get a refund.

How would it work in practice?

  • Many Irish people of a certain age will remember “mineral bottle” refund, this scheme would work in a similar way, except instead of having to hand your bottles manually over a counter, it can be done via a “reverse vending machine”
  • Consumers pay a small surcharge when buying the beverage in a bottle or can. In Germany consumers pay 15 cents for recyclable plastic bottles of all shapes/sizes and 25 cents for single use plastic bottles
  • The higher levy on the non-recyclable bottles is designed to limit their use as these cannot be returned for a refund.
  • A pilot scheme in the UK refunds consumers 10p (11.5 cents)
  • Consumers bring their empty recyclable bottles to the numerous “reverse vending machines” at retail outlets. Example here, very fast and simple task https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q49VtZFPmZw
  • Consumers deposit their bottles in the machines and in return get a voucher to the value of their deposit which they can use in that retailer

Why do we need to introduce a DRS?

  • 25.8 million Tonnes of plastic waste was generated in Europe in 2015 and only 30% of this was recycled. The EU has a target to increase recycling to 55% by 2025[1]
  • It was estimated that plastics production and the incineration of plastic waste give rise globally to approximately 400 million tonnes of CO2 a year[2]
  • Plastics are also damaging our environment in other ways, up to 500,000 tonnes (equivalent of 66,000 rubbish trucks) of plastic waste is entering the oceans and seas in Europe.
  • This harms our wild life as plastics ingested by animals, such as fish, seabirds and marine mammals can harm the intestines, and results in infection or death. Plastics also leach an assortment of dangerous chemicals into the water, and act as a carrier for invasive species, which can contaminate remote areas of the globe, also further harming and killing marine life.
  • Plastic pollution also damages the fisheries, tourism and shipping industries[3]

Why Ireland needs to introduce a DRS?

  • In 2016, an average Irish citizen produced 58 kg of plastic packaging waste, which is the highest in the EU which averages at 31kg https://www.statista.com/chart/16502/annual-plastic-waste-per-head-of-the-population/
  • It is estimated that 2.5 million plastic bottles are disposed of every day, and less than 40% are recycled. That means that up to 550 million plastic bottles are disposed of in our environment every year.
  • In 2018, a survey by Coastwatch found that plastic bottles were the most common type of pollution on Irish beaches, their survey found on average 18 plastic bottles every 500 metres
  • In contrast in Germany, 93.5% of PET (recyclable) plastic bottles were recycled in 2015[4]

Would the Irish public support a DRS?

  • A Coastwatch survey of 1426 respondents found that 89% of the public were in favour, 5% “maybe” and 6% against[5]
  • A Journal.ie online poll of 9,300 found over 80% in favour of a DRS[6]
  • The real test of such schemes lies in whether the public actually recycle. A pilot scheme introduced at five sites by the retailer Iceland in the UK proved very popular with the public. In just six months, over 311,000 plastic bottles[7] were recycled. Iceland now plans to expand the scheme and other retailers such as Tesco and the Co-op in the UK have also introduced “reverse vending machines”
  • The UK Government is currently consulting on introducing a larger scale scheme.

What are the benefits of a DRS?

  • A DRS will assist Ireland in meeting in greenhouse gas emissions targets as it will increase recycling and reduce use of non-recyclable material
  • A DRS will assist in addressing the pollution which is impacting on our environment and marine life
  • A DRS will reduce litter, a 2004 OECD study found that DRS reduced litter of beverage containers by 80%[8]
  • A DRS can also act as an educational measure in informing and reminding the public of the importance of recycling and how they can play their part in that work

Why are Business groups and Repak opposed to a DRS[9]?

  • Repak argue that beverage packaging in the form of plastic bottles only accounts for 4% of plastic pollution and that plastic bottle litter while still a problem is declining
  • Repak argue that a DRS would be complicated and costly to operate and would undermine existing recycling efforts
  • IBEC (Retail Ireland) argue that many retailers already have recycling facilities on site and a DRS would complicate and undermine existing recycling measures
  • IBEC (Food Drink Ireland) argue that beverage manufacturers already pay €6.6m to Repak annually. A DRS would undermine existing measures.
  • RGDATA (representative body for small retailers) argue that they already pay between €1,000 and €3,500 to Repak and are concerned about additional costs, also concerned as small retailers about practical capacity to manage a DRS
  • Others have also argued that a DRS could lead to an increase in household waste collection, former Minister Naughten argued would add €1 per lift as private waste providers as it takes valuable recycling material out of the system and the private waste industry would have to recover loss of such waste being recycled elsewhere[10]
  • Another argument against a DRS is that there will be upfront once off costs of up to €116m, however a Oireachtas report put this at between €20m and €25m[11]

Rebuttal of arguments against a DRS

  • Ireland is facing huge challenges to meet climate action targets. The DRS is one practical measure “low hanging fruit” that has public support. If Government is not willing to progress this common sense measure, what hope have we of implementing the more challenging measures to reduce climate change/pollution
  • Private waste providers might lose some of their revenue stream from plastic bottles currently being put in household waste, however we are only recycling 40% at present, private interests should not override the public and environmental interests
  • IBEC/Repak can’t have it both ways, can’t say on one hand plastic bottle pollution minimal and DRS will make little difference and then on other hand say DRS will have big impact on costs and existing recycling measures
  • As with plastic bag levy there was opposition and concerns about its introduction, if the DRS is designed well, it will have public support and work like the bag levy
  • Arguments that plastic bottles only constitute 4% of plastic waste are irrelevant, they are contributing to pollution, plastic bags constituted 5% of litter in 2001, now due to levy only constitute 0.13%[12], practical measures can make a difference
  • There are costs in setting up a DRS, but not costs of €116m are way over the top, comparable costs for DRS in Scotland put it at between €20-€25m. A DRS can also generate sufficient income to maintain itself if properly designed and implemented, through sale of collected material, producer fees and unredeemed deposits.
  • Concerns of smaller retailers can be addressed in a well-designed scheme; the vending machines are small and manageable even for smaller shops, convenience stores and retail outlets, equivalent space for ATM machine.

 


 

[1] A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy  http://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/pdf/plastics-strategy-brochure.pdf

[2] As above

[3] As above

[4] https://recyclinginternational.com/plastics/deposits-boost-germanys-pet-bottle-recycling-rate/

[5] http://coastwatch.org/europe/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/CW-opinion-poll-drinks-containers.pdf

[6] https://www.thejournal.ie/poll-plastic-3927762-Mar2018/

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/02/plastic-bottle-deposit-scheme-in-uk-proving-a-hit-with-shoppers

[8] Dr Dominic Hogg in evidence to Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, January 17th 2018

[9] Evidence to Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, January 17th 2018 https://www.kildarestreet.com/committees/?id=2018-01-17a.5

[10] https://www.thejournal.ie/bottle-deposit-scheme-4028872-May2018/

[11] https://data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/libraryResearch/2018/2018-05-14_l-rs-note-cost-estimate-waste-reduction-bill-2017-and-related-proposals_en.pdf

[12] https://ieep.eu/uploads/articles/attachments/0817a609-f2ed-4db0-8ae0-05f1d75fbaa4/IE%20Plastic%20Bag%20Levy%20final.pdf?v=63680923242