Plastic bottle on the shoreline Canetti

Deposit Return Schemes: What will they mean for the UK?

2 minute read

Today’s announcement of Deposit Return Schemes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is a sign of progress to reduce pollution levels across the UK. We investigate the finer details of the proposed schemes.

Firstly, this is great news. With Scotland set to launch its Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) later this year, other UK nations are now following suit, unveiling their plans to introduce schemes by 2025.

Deposit Return Schemes can increase the quality of recycling, reduce carbon emissions, save local authorities money, and reduce litter. The scheme follows the ‘polluter pays’ principle, so the cost of running the scheme is borne by the businesses who produce and sell bottles and cans, rather than the taxpayer.

Aluminium cans, plastic bottles and lids will be returnable to retailers across all four nations, while only Wales has planned to follow Scotland’s lead on an all-inclusive Deposit Return Scheme by including glass.

For years, we’ve been calling for an urgent introduction of all-in Deposit Return Schemes across the UK and championing the benefits of the schemes to businesses, governments, and crucially: the environment. Moving to a Circular Economy where everything is reused, repaired or refilled prevents pollution of our precious marine environment.

Data shows drinks-related litter is a huge problem

Drinks litter in Scotland

Credit: Catherine Gemmell

Drinks-related litter (including glass and plastic bottles, cans, caps and lids) was found on 93% of beaches around the UK and featured in the top five most common items for each country in 2022's Great British Beach Clean results, highlighting the extent of the UK’s drinks-related pollution problem.

Deposit Return Schemes offer a solution to this, while also providing an opportunity for the UK to reduce its carbon emissions. Zero Waste Scotland has estimated a reduction of 160,000 tonnes in Scotland’s carbon emissions every year as a result of its DRS.

Glass needs to be included in all schemes

We welcome the UK and Welsh Governments’ announcements; however, we do have concerns about the proposed schemes in terms of timing, inconsistency between UK nations, and primarily, in England’s decision to not include glass.

This is a long-awaited announcement and there have already been delays in reaching this stage. The consultation on DRS for England, Wales and Northern Ireland took place two years ago – two years after the UK Government promised to introduce one.

To be fully effective, glass must be included in Deposit Return Schemes, yet only Scotland and Wales’s will. As almost half of households in Scotland do not have access to kerbside glass recycling, including glass in its DRS will prevent countless glass containers going unnecessarily to landfill, and make recycling them more convenient for consumers.


glass items (bottles and fragments) found per 100m on UK beaches in 2022

As our Great British Beach Clean findings show, the presence and impact of glass cannot be denied nor ignored. While today’s announcement is undoubtedly good news, the best outcome for our environment is for schemes that are consistent, work well together, and come into effect as soon as possible across the UK.

Glass bottle on a beach - DRS

Credit: Natasha Ewins

We hope that soon this will be case - and until then, we’ll work alongside our dedicated volunteers to continue to clear and track pollution on UK beaches.