BSDA now open to plan for bottle deposit scheme

Industry opposition to a deposit and return scheme for plastic bottles and drinks cans is beginning to crumble.

The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA), which has previously lobbied ministers to block any such scheme, now says it is open to the idea.

The U-turn is thought to have been driven by a dramatic shift in public mood with 78 per cent of Britons supporting it.

The Daily Mail’s Take Back Your Bottles campaign has highlighted the waste, litter and blight to the environment, oceans and sea life caused by plastic pollution.

At the same time, even Coca Cola, which previously opposed a deposit and return scheme (DRS), has come out in favour.

Yesterday, the drinks giant announced a pledge that all its bottles will be made from at least 50 per cent recycled plastic by 2025. This will only be possible if there is a DRS to incentivise the collection of used bottles.

The Mail has revealed how the BSDA was among a group of five industry bodies that have stated ‘unanimous’ opposition to DRS in meetings with ministers.

Industry opposition to a deposit and return scheme for plastic bottles and drinks cans is beginning to crumble

The other opponents included the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which speaks for supermarkets, the Food & Drink Federation, the Industry Council for Research on Packaging (INCPEN) and The Packaging Federation.

They all signed a letter to the environment minister, Dr Therese Coffey, which argued a DRS for plastic bottles and cans would not work.

It stated: ‘On the subject of deposit return schemes, we wish to reiterate that all five organisations are unanimous in the view that such a policy would seriously undermine the viability of current kerbside recycling schemes, tackle only a small proportion of littered items, impose high cost and inconvenience on consumers, and increase environmental impact.’

Yesterday, the BSDA made clear that these groups are no longer ‘unanimous’ in opposition.

Its director general, Gavin Partington, said: ‘As an industry, we are open to exploring whether a properly considered deposit return scheme could be a part of an overall solution and we are ready to work with Government and others on this.

‘The ambition is for all our packaging in the UK to be 100 per cent recyclable, that consumers recycle and that drinks containers do not end up as litter in our towns, countryside, rivers and oceans.

‘We believe that working together with governments, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders real progress can be achieved to make the UK the world leader in creating a truly circular economy.’

The ambition is for all our packaging in the UK to be 100 per cent recyclable

Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK, Tisha (correct) Brown, welcomed the change in tone, saying: ‘Both the scientific community and the public are now deeply concerned about the issue of plastic pollution.

‘We know we need to do more, and a UK-wide deposit return scheme is the best way to stop the 16 million plastic bottles that end up in our environment every day.

‘Hopefully the BSDA is finally starting to accept responsibility for the role that they play in the ocean plastic pollution crisis.

‘So long as they continue to sell drinks in single-use disposable plastic bottles we will need systems to turn that one-way waste conveyer belt into a loop, and no-one is better placed to play a central role in those schemes than the companies causing the problem.’

The Food & Drink Federation, which speaks for manufacturers, also appears to be softening its line.

Its chief scientific officer, Helen Munday, said it is working with the Government on reforms to the current packaging recovery system, known as the PRN system.

She said: ‘Whilst we are open to considering any evidence on whether a deposit return scheme can be part of an overall solution, we need to make sure that this would complement an enhanced PRN system and not be inconvenient and costly, especially for consumers.’

The BRC, which speaks for all the mainstream supermarkets, such as Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisions, continues to oppose DRS.

Its director of food and sustainability, Andrew Opie, rejected the need for DRS saying: ‘Low recycling rates and litter must be tackled head on but this needs to be done within the context of a broader approach, involving a cultural shift.

‘Focusing on correcting one small component risks diverting resources from the wider circular economy, such as investment in R&D to design smarter products and working with UK research institutes on behavioural change.’