The UK isn’t unfamiliar with deposit return schemes. I’m sure the majority of milk drinkers remember the excitement of peeling back the foil top on a glass bottle in the morning to pour on your cereal, or in your tea. You prayed that a bird hadn’t poked the top of it and that the contents had resisted the harsh British winters’ frost. At the start of the year, milk deliveries in glass bottles were up 25% with the sight of milkmen returning to the streets of London. An astonishing 94% of all milk was delivered in glass bottles in 1975, however by 2016 this dropped to just 3%.
Those who grew up in Scotland will be familiar with the term ‘Jeg of Bru’ – I remember being given a Barrs bottle to return to the shop now and then. I’d get a 10p mix or a Taz/Freddo chocolate bar with the fee!
Bill Bryson called for the return of the bottle deposit scheme almost eight years ago with a very pertinent point;
“What sensible nation would not want to capture and recycle its precious and finite resources? What discerning people would not want to enjoy a litter-free environment?”
I spent some of my childhood in Norway. My sister and I were quite the entrepreneurial duo (thieves). On Sunday mornings, we’d wander around our neighbourhood collecting bottles that had been discarded/left outside for return after a Saturday night of entertaining. We’d pop to the shop and return the bottles, making a tidy little profit for not a lot of effort. When we visited Copenhagen a couple of years back, any bottles we bought were returned to the shop, just as we had done in Norway.
In 2003 a deposit return scheme was introduced in Germany. A staggering 99% of all plastic bottles are recycled. In the UK that figure is just 43%.
I fully support the deposit return scheme, but I’m also not naïve to the cost of implementation. I hope that smaller businesses will be given the appropriate support in order to make this a success for all.