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Deposit Return Scheme for Drinks Containers

Volume 748: debated on Thursday 25 April 2024

Today, I am updating colleagues on our progress to introduce a deposit return scheme for drinks containers. The Government are committed to delivering a world-class scheme and will bring forth legislation to progress this as soon as possible when parliamentary time allows.

DRS is a well-established international model, with nearly 60 schemes due to be in operation by the end of 2024. A redeemable deposit is placed on single-use drinks containers, which is refunded upon return of the empty container. The deposit provides a financial incentive for consumers to return empty drinks containers for recycling. We will continue to prioritise reducing inflation and supporting families with the cost of living as the DRS is taken forward and we will consider the appointed deposit management organisation’s approach to setting deposit levels. The DRS will boost recycling levels, reduce the littering of in-scope drinks containers, and turbocharge our transition to a circular economy.

The UK Government have consulted twice—alongside the Northern Ireland Executive and Welsh Government —on the introduction of a DRS: first in 2019 and again in 2021, with the latest Government response published in January 2023. Since then, my officials have been working closely with their devolved Administration counterparts on the steps needed to achieve interoperable schemes that work across the UK.

Extensive engagement has been undertaken to explore various proposals and identify compromises. Together, we have successfully reached alignment on: joint registration and reporting, labelling, reciprocal returns, deposit level, minimum container size, and low volume sales.

There is an outstanding issue regarding the scope of materials in DRS. The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland and the UK Government agree that polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles, steel and aluminium cans will be included in our DRS, and that glass drink containers will be excluded when the scheme launches. The Scottish Government have agreed to commence DRS in Scotland on this same basis to ensure the schemes move forward.

It remains my view that including glass in any UK DRS will create undue complexity for the drinks industry and it increases storage and handling costs for retailers. Glass containers are heavy and fragile, making them more difficult for consumers to return and receive the deposit they have paid, potentially forcing up the cost of their shopping. Moreover, glass is littered less: the Keep Britain Tidy litter composition analysis of 2020 presented that 55% of litter was from PET plastic and metal drinks containers, compared to just 4% from glass drinks containers. We want to work with industry on an ambitious re-use and refill initiative and will provide further detail shortly.

The Welsh Government are taking a different approach: they intend to include glass when their scheme launches. We will continue our conversations with Welsh Government, but if their position does not change, we will reiterate the duty to protect the UK internal market and facilitate free trade within the UK so that businesses can continue trading unhindered across the UK and ensure better prices and choice for consumers, particularly in the context of the current cost of living pressures. There are no plans to exclude any DRS from the UK Internal Market Act 2020 (UKIM) now that there is maximum possible alignment and interoperability across the UK to protect businesses and consumers. However, any application for an exclusion would be considered on the evidence presented.

As it stands, when our DRS launches, businesses and consumers will be protected by the market access principles of the UKIM Act for the sale of drinks in glass bottles across the UK. In plain terms, this means that drinks in glass containers made or imported into England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will not be subject to a Welsh DRS which includes glass.

As stated in the consultation response published in January 2023, launching a DRS in October 2025 was a stretching target date. Following extensive engagement with industry, who will be responsible for delivering the DRS, and a review of international approaches to DRS implementation, additional time will be needed to efficiently and effectively roll out the schemes across the UK. With the agreement of Ministerial colleagues across the devolved Administrations, the DRS will go live in October 2027. Until then, we are committed to engaging with industry and working with a deposit management organisation candidate(s) to finalise the next steps towards DRS implementation.

We will continue to work with industry, our colleagues in the devolved Administrations, and other relevant stakeholders to deliver a DRS across the UK that works for businesses, communities, and consumers.

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