Friday, 6 April 2018

Bring out your bottles

The government have announced that they intend to introduce a deposit scheme for plastic bottles, which they will consider extending to glass bottles and metal cans. The intention is to increase the rate of recycling, curb litter and reduce the amount of plastic waste entering the oceans. Clearly this is a laudable aim, provided that the vessels are actually recycled rather than just being shipped off in containers to be dumped in the Congo. However, as with any such innovation, there are various aspects that need to be carefully thought through.

One of the most obvious is how it will impact on establishments that sell bottles or cans for consumption on the premises. As the ALMR have rightly pointed out, ideally they should be exempted from the deposit scheme, as anything else could lead to horrendous administrative complexity. But what then happens if customers take bottles out of the pub and try to claim refunds back?

Looking at the wider picture, we already have a well-established system of kerbside collection of bottles and cans, which may cause a certain amount of grumbling, but generally works well and achieves a high level of recycling. People have become used to this, so it would seem a bit destructive and wasteful to ditch it in favour of a whole new parallel infrastructure. Surely there must be some way in which reclaiming deposits could be integrated with the existing kerbside collections. The sheer amount of effort and investment needed to duplicate this should not be underestimated.

It’s all very well saying “take your bottles back to where you bought them”, but people accumulate bottles and cans from a variety of sources and would quite reasonably expect to return them for deposit reclaim to a single point. And, if they’re among the growing number who order their groceries online and have them delivered to their house, it would require them to make an additional journey purely to get their deposits back, which isn’t exactly very environmentally friendly.

In some countries, you get a voucher to spend at the shop hosting the recycling point, but it doesn’t seem fair to force you to spend it somewhere you might not choose to shop. A correspondent from Germany reports how the atmosphere around the recycling stations can become pretty unpleasant, especially in the summer, and resentment is inevitably provoked if apparently valid containers are rejected.

It’s not hard to imagine that, if the new system doesn’t work smoothly, it could even end up in a reduction in recycling rates if people perceive it as being too much like hard work. Of course in principle it’s worth doing, but great care will be needed to ensure that the scheme doesn’t bring with it a whole raft of undesirable and unintended consequences, which is so often the case with government initiatives.

20 comments:

  1. The other Mudgie !6 April 2018 at 15:36

    But there isn't really a need for bottles, glass or plastic, or cans.
    I drink cask conditioned beer, obviously from a reusable cask, when I'm out and Severn Trent tap water and black coffee when I'm at home.
    I might buy half a dozen bottles of Bottle Conditioned Ales a year and I have an old plastic bottle I refill for my jacket pocket before I go out and that's it.
    Nearly all beer bottles carried a deposit and were returned for reuse until the early 1970s and that worked very well until VAT was introduced and complicated things.

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  2. No one wants to see the country littered with plastic bottles but it is only by conflating two other reasons for a deposit scheme that the whole thing does not look like a massive overreaction.

    Recycling is only worthwhile if the recycled product is worth more than the cost of recycling and that should include the unpaid time spent by the public in doing so. I can foresee long queues of angry people.

    There is a problem with plastic pollution in the oceans but this measure will not solve it. I have seen two figures, obviously not referring to the same thing. One is that 50% of pollution comes from fishing nets and associated items. The other is that 90% comes from just 10 rivers, 8 in Asia and two in Africa.

    As a PS, I can’t see a really simple way to reimburse householders at the kerbside. An electronic device into which the council operative enters the number of bottles and that is taken off the council tax bill seems easiest but what about flats with communal bins?

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    1. Yes, of course recycling needs be economically worthwhile rather than being pursued as an end in itself. However, it could be argued that the reduction of litter in itself has some financial value.

      I made the point in my earlier post about plastic straws that 90% of plastic waste in the seas comes from ten Asian and African rivers, so any effort we make will be, by definition, a drop in the ocean.

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    2. But we are not talking about recycling, we are talking about reusing. Which is, economically and environmentally, a quite different thing.

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    3. Could you provide a source for those stats please chaps?

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    4. The Guardian: "Just 10 river systems transport more than 90% of all plastic waste to the world’s seas, new research shows."

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    5. Thanks.

      I take issue with your statement that 'any effort we make will be, by definition, a drop in the ocean' if you think we should use that as an excuse for doing nothing, though.

      Also, at some point, we will have to start considering the environment more important than the economy, or both will collapse.

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  3. It used to work well in the corner shops of the 60's and 70's, I can't see supermarkets being too enthused in today's fast buck throwaway culture.

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    1. The volume is far greater now, of course.

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  4. "We already have a well-established system of kerbside collection of bottles and cans." Not where I live matey, we have to take ours to the bottle and can banks, sited at various locations around the town.

    Not particularly "green" if you have to jump into your car to do so; although I usually save ours up and combine a trip to the bottle bank with a visit to the supermarket.

    Moving on, there are machines for re-cycling plastic bottles in most German supermarkets, and many accept returned beer bottles as well. As many shoppers seem to buy their beer by the crate, these can be returned as well.

    Harvey's bottles are all returnable, and have always been so. I don't think VAT is to blame for other breweries dropping returnable bottles; more likely a case of couldn't be bothered!

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  5. All I can say is, good luck with that.

    Over here in Canada we've had deposits for years. Of course, each province is different. See below:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Container_deposit_legislation#Canada

    In BC (British Columbia) it doesn't include dairy (yay). I take my liquor bottles/cans back when I buy more beer (as well as the occasional wine/liquor bottle). Depending on where I go they either give me money or take it off my purchase. I'm okay with that. As for pop/juice etc., I usually save them up in a big bag and give them to the local boy scouts, fund raiser for hockey etc. whenever they come by. :)

    Cheers

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    1. A point made in the report I oiniked to is that any scheme needs to be consistent across the country.

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  6. In my fifties childhood a deposit on bottles was normal and it worked well. It created an army of small children who's mission was to collect discarded bottles in order to supplement their meagre pocket money.
    I doubt if modern children would have the inclination or, indeed, be allowed to collect bottles but I am sure that the men of the ilk of the one I saw collecting cigarette stubs from ashtrays on outside tables would replace them.

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  7. In the UK, the supermarkets have prevented deposit schemes for half litre glass beer bottle s because they don't allow used, scuffed bottles on their shelves. for a short
    period, when Czech bud was first imported, they had to accept scuffed bottles, but that soon stopped. Very similar to the imperfect veg issue.

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  8. There's a bit in Dominic Behan's book about his brother, and fellow writer, Brendan about a guy who's always inviting the whole pub back to his house for after-hours parties just so he can take the empty Guinness bottles back for the deposit the next day.

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  9. It's not that long ago since pretty much every bottle sold through pubs was reused. Everything from baby mixers to pint beer bottles went back in the crates they came in to be washed and reused, ten or more times. Only spirit bottles went in the bin. It was a very environmentally-friendly system. Now everything goes in the bottle skip and the company that collects that from my local sells the glass to a processor that grinds it up for use in road surfacing and brick manufacture so it doesn't even get turned back into bottles. Forcing manufacturers and retailers back into using returnable glass packaging would be a major step forward but somehow I can't see it happening.

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    1. Yep, Sam Smiths have stayed ahead of the game again, this time by not changing how they do things.

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    2. They're almost unique now in having a closed distribution system which makes it easier.

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    3. It does, but disregarding exports, they do have bottle return schemes when they sell to the free trade as well. Not for all products or customers, but some.

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  10. on the one hand all this hippy dippy green crap is a pain in the arse.

    on the other hand they are right. single use plastics are a hazard and poisoning the planet.

    i guess we should just suck it up and recycle. adding a pfand seems to change behaviour.

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