Campaigners and retailers clash over bottle recycling scheme

Reverse vending machines are already up and running at Ikea. Picture: Contributed
Reverse vending machines are already up and running at Ikea. Picture: Contributed
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RETAILERS, soft drinks manufacturers and green campaigners are gearing up for the Battle of the Bottle over a controversial recycling scheme.

Environmentalists claim a deposit-return scheme – where shoppers pay a deposit, say 10p, on glass or plastic bottles or aluminium cans and get the money back when they return the containers – would help reduce the number of bottles and cans that end up littering streets, beaches and countryside.

Current recycling rates for plastic and aluminium are around 50 per cent, but supporters say countries with deposit-return schemes have seen that rise to 95 per cent. The deposit approach is aimed at people drinking “on the go” who can just take their bottle or can into a shop when they are finished.

But retailers argue the scheme would be costly and old-fashioned with no guarantee of success.

The Scottish Government has announced Zero Waste Scotland will investigate the possible design, cost and benefits of a deposit-return scheme.

“Reverse-vending” machines could be installed in larger shops and supermarkets to accept the empties.

Gerry Farrell, of Leithers Don’t Litter, gave his enthusiastic backing to the idea.

“Anyone who goes out along the Water of Leith or on our beautiful beaches knows our litter crisis is getting worse, and cans and bottles are a huge part of the problem.

“We do our best to organise clean-ups, like so many other Scottish communities, but wouldn’t it be better to reduce the volumes of litter in the first place?”

He said research for the Scottish Government showed a deposit return system would mean more than 40 million fewer littered cans and bottles across Scotland each year.

But Pete Cheema, chief executive of the Edinburgh-based Scottish Grocers Federation, said a deposit return scheme would cost retailers £40.7m when they were already having to cope with huge cost pressures from Brexit and 
economic uncertainty.

Even if smaller traders did not have to install reverse vending machines – which he said would cost £30,000 or £40,000 each and take up a lot of space – there would still be other problems.

If retailers were expected to accept over-the-counter returns, they would have to find storage space.

“And it would be fraught with logistics and health problems – people returning milk cartons or half-empty cartons of juice,” he said.

“What we should be doing is concentrating on kerbside recycling rather than introducing deposit return.”

But Anna Christopherson, owner of Boda Bars, is all for deposit-return. She said: “I’m very familiar with how it works in Sweden, and there’s no reason it couldn’t work just as well in Scotland. And for businesses like ours it’s not just about being socially responsible – we already collect all our cans and bottles for recycling – but we’d no longer be paying trade waste costs and instead we’d receive a small amount of revenue because of the handling fee we’d be paid.”