UK government announces latest scheme tackling ocean plastic pollution

Published on
April 2, 2018

A deposit return system aimed at increasing recycling rates and slashing the amount of plastic waste pollution will be introduced later this year, subject to consultation, the government in the United Kingdom has confirmed.

According to the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), U.K. consumers go through an estimated 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year, but more than three billion are incinerated, sent to landfill, or left to pollute land and marine environments.

To tackle this problem, the government said it will introduce a deposit return scheme in England for single-use drink containers (whether plastic, glass, or metal), subject to consultation later this year. The consultation will look at the details of how such a scheme would work, alongside other measures to increase recycling rates. 

DEFRA also hopes to talk to the devolved administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales about the scope for working together on this issue.

Similar schemes already operate in countries such as Denmark, Sweden, and Germany. 

A deposit return scheme sees consumers pay an up-front deposit when they buy a drink, which is redeemed on return of the empty drink container. Possible variants of a deposit return scheme include cash rewards for returning drinks containers without an upfront deposit.

“We can be in no doubt that plastic is wreaking havoc on our marine environment – killing dolphins, choking turtles and degrading our most precious habitats. It is absolutely vital we act now to tackle this threat and curb the millions of plastic bottles a day that go unrecycled,” U.K. Environment Secretary Michael Gove said. “We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use, and now we want to take action on plastic bottles to help clean up our oceans.”

The announcement is the latest move in the U.K. government crackdown on plastic and sits alongside a 25-Year Environment Plan to eliminate avoidable plastic waste.

The GBP 0.05 (USD 0.07, EUR 0.06) plastic bag charge is estimated to have led to 9 billion fewer bags being distributed since its launch in October 2015. 

At the start of this year, a landmark ban on the manufacture of products containing microbeads came into force in the United Kingdom. The move was directly aimed at reducing the amount of tiny pieces of plastic entering oceans, where they are being ingested by marine life, including fish and crustaceans, and entering food chains.

A ban on the sale of products containing microbeads is to follow later in the year.

It is estimated that there is more than 150 million metric tons (MT) of plastic in the world’s oceans and that one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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