Guest Blog | SUEZ: Deposit Return Schemes - Coming to the UK Soon!

Dr Adam Read, External Affairs Director at SUEZ, reflects on the hottest topic in UK waste management right now - when will a deposit return scheme arrive in the UK and just what will it target …

30 Apr 2018 -

The momentum is building …

Recent weeks have seen attention shift to the debate about Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) and their long awaited re-introduction to the UK. Lest we forget that the 1970s saw a very successful glass bottle return system (with 5p and 10p deposits) operating through your local newsagents for Corona bottles, which certainly helped enhance my weekly pocket money. 



On the 28th March Secretary of State Michael Gove announced that England would have a deposit return system (DRS) for single use drinks containers ‘subject to a pending consultation’. This announcement followed on from the positive statement from the Scottish Government back in October 2017 that it was backing the introduction of DRS, and have for the last 6 months been investigating possible systems, consulting on their ideas, and gathering evidence to underpin their modelling. 

Scotland may have led the way, but England is looking to catch up fast, and English Parliamentary attention on DRS has ramped up in recent months, with the Environmental Audit Committee ‘call for evidence’ (Voluntary & Economics Incentives Working Group) dating back to December 2017. Their evidence based report suggested that countries with deposit return schemes tend to recycle between 80% and 95% of their plastic bottles, significantly better than in the UK, with Norway recycling 95% of all plastic bottles compared with only 57% in England. So the momentum has been building…


On the agenda for some time now...


Others have been lobbying hard for the introduction of DRS across the UK, the most noticeable of which have been the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), who reconfirmed their support for DRS in October 2017 through a report they commissioned from Eunomia, which suggested that local authorities could save £35 million per annum under a full DRS approach. 


But CPRE’s open interest in DRS dates back to 2009, when they claimed it could boost recycling and cut litter, and in 2011 they produced a robust evidence report suggest a 10-15p scheme would be appropriate for most beverage containers whilst a MORI survey suggested that 66% of people would use the scheme most of the time.


But will it work, what about public acceptability?


A survey by Ipsos (1,681 adults aged 16-75 across the UK) released in the same week as Mr Gove’s announcement suggests 40% believe responsibility for sorting out our plastic waste problem should be shared equally among consumers, goods producers, retailers and government, while 27% put the most responsibility on companies who produce packaged goods. Most interesting for the DRS discussion were the 41% who believed that a tax on containers (such as plastic drink bottles and disposable coffee cups) would be effective, compared to only 25% who thought that fines for households who do not recycle enough of their rubbish or 19% who would support a public information campaign funded by taxpayers’ money.


A more personal contribution to the debate …. 


I have always been open to the idea of DRS, having grown up with a glass specific system in the 1970s, but as someone that has worked in (and for) local government I have always been concerned about the potential for a DRS to undermine municipal collection service budgets and to cannibalise the high value materials from any kerbside scheme. So on joining SUEZ in September 2017, who are strongly in favour of DRS (as part of Extended Producer Responsibility framework) based on their experiences of working with differing DRS systems in France and Sweden, I commissioned Oakdene Hollins to take a closer look at global DRS performance and to help facilitate a discussion with colleagues and peers about what a DRS might look like in the UK.


Our report was launched the day after Gove’s announcement, perfect timing you might think, and in our opinion the ideal DRS would: 



  • Only target plastic (PET) bottles and aluminium cans smaller than 0.75l, which are typically consumed while “on-the-go” instead of at home and are a more significant cause of litter than larger bottles – with a refundable deposit of 10 pence per container;
  • Be owned/operated by manufacturers, but provide the opportunity for local authorities to generate new revenue streams by operating redemption points and local logistic systems. SUEZ believes a range of secure, public redemption points is needed – not just reverse-vending machines as has been suggested by some commentators; 
  • Would not leave local authorities out of pocket by “cannibalising” the more valuable materials (like plastic and aluminium) from existing, effective, household collection services;
  • Allow consumers to donate their deposits to other causes or organisations, rather than redeeming them as cash – which would be effective at generating significant revenue for national and local good causes; and 
  • Only be one part of a much wider system of Extended Producer Responsibility, which would use a range of tools – such as taxation on virgin materials or incentives to use recyclable materials – to drive long-term sustainable production and consumption of goods.  


We also commissioned an independent YouGov poll (over 2,000 adults across Britain) which found that 80% believe there should be more public recycling bins to use in the public areas and 74% who said they would take plastic bottles and aluminium cans to a recycling and redeem point if they carried a 10p refundable deposit. 


UK commuters in particular struggle to effectively recycle on the go and fewer than half of us are likely to hang on to bottles or cans long enough to recycle when we get home, whilst 39% admitted that they are most likely to simply put plastic bottles or cans into a general rubbish bin if a suitable public recycling bin isn’t handy when they are out and about.  So the scope for capturing this lost material through a DRS is clear for all to see...


So, what’s next?


Michael Gove has committed to a full consultation, and with the Scottish Government already consulting, the odds are strongly in favour of a scheme being introduced by 2019, whilst the Welsh Government have also openly backed proposals for a UK wide system, which would make more sense for retailers and consumers alike.


However, what the recent spate of research reports, calls for evidence, and public polls show is that there is no uniform solution, no clear winner, and no real consensus on which materials to target. We can’t even agree if a DRS should be focusing solely on the ‘on the go’ materials or all similar containers whether at home or whilst at and about… we need to work together to solve these design issues…


What is needed now is open and transparent debate, with Government(s) bringing their ideas to the table for full consultation and consideration. There is growing evidence globally of the opportunities, issues, benefits and risks of DRS, and this evidence must be assessed in the UK context, and provide a system with the right design for it to suit the UK for a long time to come. We can’t afford any false dawns, because the public, the local authorities and the UK retailers will not stand for it!




As with all my ‘comments’ they are mine and mine alone. If you would like to get in touch or comment on my thoughts then please do so, I am more than open to some good sold fashioned debate and dialogue. Please email me[at]



Dr Adam Read, External Affairs Director at SUEZ

back to list