Bringing a Sea Change
We have all seen the terrible images of our oceans filled with plastic waste and heard the grim predictions for the planet if we carry on as we are. The marine life is being choked to death from small microbeads to millions of plastic bottles and packaging. At the end of last year the United Nations said we are in the grip of a “planetary crisis”, with marine life now threatened by “irreparable damage”.
Plastic bottle usage is now under intense scrutiny and increasing pressure to reform from all sides, the manufacturer, the retailer and the end user are all to play a part in curbing the devastating build up of plastic waste in the UK.
Figures show that only around half of all plastic bottles get recycled in the UK. But things look set to change. A ministerial delegation has recently visited Norway to see if the UK should copy an industry-led scheme that recycles 97% of bottles. Norway claims to offer the most cost-efficient way of tackling plastic litter using a Scandinavian deposit-based system for recycling bottles, thought likely to be soon adopted in the UK.
The Norwegian government decided the best method would be to put a tax on every bottle that’s not recycled, then leave the operating details of the scheme up to business.
The consumer pays a deposit on every bottle roughly 10p to 25p depending on the size. They return it empty and post it into a machine which reads the barcode and produces a coupon for the deposit.
Similar schemes are in operation in other Nordic nations, Germany, and some states in the US and Canada. The managers of the Norway operation say it could easily be applied to the UK.
The deposit-return machine accepts only two types of plastic bottle, with approved labels and approved glue to fix the labels. This allows the labels to be stripped easily, and simplifies recycling.
If there is an economic incentive we are all more likely to purchase drinks wisely and dispose of the bottles wisely. Just 3% of Norway’s plastic bottles elude the deposit return scheme so it clearly works.
The greater advantage of deposit return schemes would be to oblige each part of the plastic chain to change their behaviour, from the product concept and design, to manufacture, transport, use and finally disposal by the consumer.
House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee have just reported that they “ recommend that the Government introduces a legislated Deposit Return Scheme for all PET plastic drinks bottles” so it seems that the tide may be turning on the plastic bottles in our seas.