Beer bottle litter on Crantock Beach Cornwall Beer Natasha Ewins

Governments must keep their promise to protect our ocean from drinks litter

4 minute read

Picking up plastic bottle on a beach Triocean

Clean Seas Team

13 Aug 2021

We are calling for all-in Deposit Return Schemes to be urgently introduced by governments to protect our coast and stop rubbish polluting our seas.

For over 30 years the Marine Conservation Society has been documenting the journey of plastic packaging, glass bottles and cans from use, into our ocean.

During those three decades, thousands of our volunteers have tirelessly cleaned up tonnes of rubbish from our beaches and surveyed the litter they find there.

Broken glass bottle on a beach

Credit: Pixabay

Drinks litter is one of the most commonly found items on our beaches

Since we started surveys in 1994, drinks containers have been a constant presence - and it’s getting worse.

Over the last 26 years (1994-2019) we've seen a 32% increase in drinks container litter across the UK. In 2020 we found drinks-related litter in 99% of inland litter picks.

As the problem grows so does the urgency to hold governments to account and demand that they keep their pledge to protect our beaches, our wildlife, and our ocean.

But governments can take action to turn the tide on pollution if they keep their promises and bring in ‘all-in deposit return schemes’.

Coca cola glass bottle on a beach

Credit: Pixabay

We are calling for Deposit Return Schemes to be urgently introduced for the sake of our seas.

Laura Foster, our Head of Clean Seas, said: "Politicians in England and Wales have been promising an introduction of Deposit Return Schemes for years and we are still waiting. Their own data shows an-all inclusive scheme will save billions of pounds and we know it is incredibly popular with the popular. Most people are really confused why its taking so long to get a date set for its introduction." 

Recently we asked ocean lovers to show us what they spotted on our beaches and the photos they sent in horrified us – and illustrate why we urgently need all-inclusive Deposit Return Schemes urgently across the UK.

Politicians in England and Wales have been promising an introduction of Deposit Return Schemes for years and we are still waiting.

Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas, Marine Conservation Society
Glass bottles collage from supporters

What is a Deposit Return Scheme?

You pay a small deposit on top of the price of a drink. When finished, you'd return the drinks container to a collection point, in a supermarket or shop for example, and get your money back.

This system would reduce littering, putting a value on what is commonly seen as 'worthless', and encourage others to pick up drinks litter they come across. It’s a simple idea which would have an immediate impact.

What is an ‘all-inclusive Deposit Return Scheme’?

All-inclusive Deposit Return Schemes would include plastic, glass bottles and cans of all sizes.

Our research shows that we need to tackle the whole problem of drinks container litter to prevent rubbish washing into our seas, and polluting the ocean.

To make a difference we must be ‘all in’.

glass bottle.jpg

What have our governments promised so far?


Scotland is the first nation in the UK to commit to a deposit return scheme. Initially announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in 2017, it was originally intended for launch in April 2021, but ministers decided to delay by 15 months to make sure businesses had more than enough time to be ready for the change.

Calum Duncan, Head of Conservation Scotland at the Marine Conservation Society, said:

“Our volunteers pick up thousands of bottles and cans across Scotland's beaches every year. Whether glass, plastic or metal, drinks litter negatively impacts wildlife, business and everyone’s enjoyment of our stunning coastline, so we’re delighted to be on the final countdown to the solution to this problem.”

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

In their 2019 manifesto, the Conservative party promised us a Deposit Return Scheme including glass. Here’s their commitment in full:

“We will crack down on the waste and carelessness that destroys our natural environment and kills marine life. We will increase penalties for fly-tipping, make those on community sentences clean up their parks and streets, and introduce a deposit return scheme to incentivise people to recycle plastic and glass.”

The UK Government (consulting on England), the Welsh Government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland launched a second consultation in early 2021, seeking insight from members of the public and businesses into how a Deposit Return Scheme could work. Read our response to the consultation.

Businesses need to take action too

A new report from Surfers Against Sewage revealed that almost two-thirds (65%) of all branded packaging pollution across the UK can be traced back to just 12 companies: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Anheuser-Busch InBev, McDonalds, Mondelez International, Heineken, Tesco, Carlsberg Group, Suntory, Haribo, Mars and Aldi.

The charity’s annual Citizen Science Brand Audit exposed the ‘Dirty Dozen’ behind the packaging pollution pandemic which is blighting UK landscapes and decimating the environment.

Coca-Cola took the top spot yet again, with branded items such as Coke cans and bottles being picked up three times more often than other brands during the audit.

Hugo Tagholm, Chief Executive, Surfers Against Sewage said: “Legislation such as an ‘all-in’ deposit scheme needs to be introduced urgently and governments need to hold these companies to account and turn off the tap of plastic and packaging pollution flooding the ocean.”

We support Surfers Against Sewage in calling for businesses to take their share of the blame too. It’s time we all took action – before it’s too late.

What you can do:

We urgently need to see action on this issue, and we’re asking for the government not to break their manifesto promise with broken glass - don't bottle it Boris!

What you can do:

  • Send us photos of glass bottles, cans and plastic you spot plaguing towns, the countryside and our beautiful beaches. you can send them to us at [email protected]
  • Tag us in your photos on social media with the hashtag #DontBottleItBoris
  • Join our beach cleans and record the evidence to call for urgent action
  • Read our guides to reducing your plastic use.
  • If you live in Scotland, ask your MSP to support Maurice Golden MSP’s motion