The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA)

Government accused of ‘dragging its feet’ over plastic bottle deposit scheme

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The UK government has been accused of failing to recognise the urgency of tackling plastic pollution after giving no firm commitments on a deposit return scheme for beverage containers.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) had recommended such a scheme be introduced late last year in order to help improve the country’s floundering recycling rates for plastic bottles.

However, the government responded today by saying that introducing a bottle deposit return scheme could be delayed until after a consultation on a tax on single-use plastics.

This consultation was announced by chancellor Philip Hammond in his autumn budget last November when he said he wanted to tackle the “scourge of plastic littering our planet”, but has failed to materialise three months on.

“The government is dragging its feet on introducing a deposit return scheme,” EAC chair, Mary Creagh, said. “Every day it delays, another 700,000 plastic bottles end up in our streets.

“A UK-wide deposit return scheme is a crucial next step to turn back the plastic tide. The government needs to take decisive action on this important issue instead of kicking it into the long grass.”

The EAC found that the UK uses 7.7 billion plastic water bottles each year, and that a deposit scheme could increase recycling rates for beverage containers from 57% to around 80-90%.

It also previously found that providing more free drinking water taps and fountains in public spaces could lead to a 65% reduction in the use of plastic water bottles.

Defra and WaterUK have since announced they will create a network of water refill points across England by 2021 in the hope of cutting plastic bottle use by tens of millions each year.

However, the EAC said it had received no evidence that WaterUK was doing this, and that there are currently no plans to ensure food and drink retailers provide free water.

In addition, the government has not adopted the committee’s recommendation of introducing a compliance fee structure that rewards product design for recyclability and raises charges on packaging difficult to recycle.

“This sounds like the government trying to manage expectations before doing significantly less than is necessary – we hope this isn’t the case,” Greenpeace UK oceans campaigner, Elena Polisano, said.

“They can waste their time and ours trying to delay things until we’ve all forgotten about plastic, but we won’t forget, and we won’t forget a government U-turn on dealing with it.”

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