Plastic litter in the sea Rich Carey

Plans to move forward with Deposit Return Scheme announced

2 minute read

Today, the UK Government has announced a huge step forward for the Deposit Return Scheme. Our Chief Executive Officer, Sandy Luk, welcomed the announcement but highlights our disappointment in the timeline for the Scheme.

“The UK Government's announcement means that we will all pay a small deposit for our drinks, and then get money back when we return the container. This is great news, because we know that these systems really work. They reduce litter and increase recycling.

But it's a huge disappointment that the new scheme isn’t going to start for another three years and isn’t going to cover glass bottles.

"For our ocean’s sake, we can’t keep kicking the can – or bottle – down the road. We call on the UK Government to speed up this law and to follow Wales' ambition to include plastic, metal and glass. Then every country in the UK can have a world-class Deposit Return Scheme."

What is a Deposit Return Scheme?

You pay a small deposit on top of the price of a drink, which you get back when you return the empty drinks container to a collection point located in places such as supermarkets or shops.

Across over 50 nations worldwide, Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) run with huge levels of success. They’re a tried and tested method. In Germany, the DRS has achieved return rates of 98%, with every shop required to take bottles back. Similarly, in Finland, 93% of bottles and cans purchased were returned through its DRS.

Why do we need a Deposit Return Scheme?

Last month, our State of Beaches report showed 97% of beaches surveyed in the UK were polluted with bottles and cans. These items are a real scourge on our beaches – and strong Deposit Return Schemes across the UK have the potential to make a huge impact.

By placing a value on what is often seen as worthless, Deposit Return Schemes incentivise people to not only recycle their own drinks containers, but also to pick up littered containers. This would have a huge effect in reducing littering.

A Deposit Return Scheme also has the potential to save local councils money. Research suggests local councils could save between £60,000 and £500,000 a year due to reduced littering and landfill charges, as well as there being fewer recycling bins to process.

Litter on Scottish Beaches

Credit: Catherine Gemmell

A Deposit Return Scheme would also signify an important step towards a more circular economy. This means a society where waste is minimised by keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible, through a combination of recycling, reuse and regeneration.

What’s the problem?

Whilst we are delighted that the announcement in April 2024 from the UK Government highlighted the next steps for implementing Deposit Return Schemes across the UK, the timeline is disappointing. We are also extremely disappointed that glass is still not included in the ambition for England, Northern Ireland and now Scotland too. We applaud the Welsh Government for keeping their commitment to glass and we want to see every other country follow their lead and put glass back on the table.

The UK Government first vocalised its intention to form a Deposit Return Scheme in England in 2018. Since then, the Scheme has been delayed twice. The Scheme was then set to begin in October 2025, but this latest announcement has seen the date pushed back to 2027.

With our State of Beaches report recording a rise in drinks-related litter, we cannot face further delays. We need urgent action now – for wildlife, people and planet.

What next?

We need everyone in government and parliament to work together to enable the implementation of world-class Deposit Return Schemes for glass, plastic and metal drinks containers as soon as possible in every country across the UK.

You can also take action, by writing to your politician asking what they are doing to help Deposit Return Schemes across the UK move forward for the sake of our beaches.

Read more about what is happening in each country.

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