Bottle deposit return scheme 'could reduce Edinburgh Council's recycling and increase costs'

WASTE chiefs have stressed that Scottish Government proposals for a bottle deposit scheme will help clean up the Capital’s street – despite a warning it could lead to more expensive contracts and recycling rates to fall.

Thursday, 12th September 2019, 5:06 pm
An Iceland store in Musselburgh, East Lothian, installed a reverse vending machine as part of a trial, ahead of the forthcoming formal introduction of a deposit-return system in Scotland

The city council’s transport and environment committee considered a report on early proposals for a deposit return scheme for drinks bottles. The Scottish Government project will see customers pay an extra 20 pence on each container – which will be redeemed when it is returned to retailers.

But in a report to councillors, officials warned that “even as it reduces the tonnages of waste managed by local authorities, it may increase the cost per tonne, mainly through the removal of higher value materials from the existing recycling streams”.

The report adds that “overall the scheme is likely to benefit the environment” but “may reduce the amount of recycling being carried out by local authorities”.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Officials also warn that “it is not clear at this stage whether the local authority will be able to recover the deposits” from containers collected by the council as waste.

It adds: “Due to glass being heavier than the plastics or cans, and because people are more likely to recycle their glass, the likelihood is that the recycling rate will fall overall at the local government level but increase at the national level.

“If the more valuable items are no longer present in the recycling stream, particularly with the recycling service, the cost per tonne may then increase.”

But the council insists that the roll-out of the scheme could put less pressure on street cleaning if residents and visitors are given a financial incentive to recycle more of their containers.

Transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, said: “The principle is likely to give people more of an incentive to recycle and the benefits to the city as a whole can only be good.

“This is part of a much bigger picture and changing recycling landscape in trying to reduce the environmental impacts on services.

“There are benefits that are unquantifiable at the moment and more work will take place as plans are progressed.”

Green Cllr Gavin Corbett hopes the council will adapt to ensure recycling rates improve.

He said: “The deposit return scheme is a very welcome development and I look forward to it being used enthusiastically by residents. It will require some adjustment of services by the council but that might take some time to become clear.

“One issue I’ve highlighted is the impact for community litter picks, which typically pick up a lot of plastic bottles, glass and cans. These will all now potentially become a valuable source of income for community groups as well as the community benefits of litter clear-ups. So that might increase the number of litter picks. That is why I’m asking the council to make sure litter picking kits are adjusted to suit and also that big retailers are geared up to take volume returns.”

Conservative transport and environment spokesperson, Cllr Nick Cook, said: “It’s essential that all measures to increase recycling – no doubt well-intentioned are fully thought through.

“The council is light years away from meeting it’s own recycling targets. It shouldn’t seek to implement moves which will shift this goal even further out of reach.”