A return to the practice of returning your drinks bottles for cash is being considered by Environment Minister, Edwin Poots.

A money-back scheme on drinks bottles would help increase recycling and potentially reduce the amount of litter on our streets.

In a move to boost the reuse of packaging material, the Minister is also looking at a fee-based scheme to encourage producers to design and use packaging that is easier to re-use and/or recycle.

A deposit scheme for returning drinks bottles is being considered by the Executive. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
A deposit scheme for returning drinks bottles is being considered by the Stormont Executive. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

“With a shocking 1.3 million items of litter on our streets at any one time almost half of that littered packaging including drink cans, plastic bottles, confectionery and crisp wrappers we need to move now to tackle this problem," Minister Poots said.

“So today, alongside England and Wales, I am launching a consultation on options for a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks containers including glass bottles, aluminium and steel cans and PET plastic bottles. In this type of scheme the public will be able to recoup a deposit for return of drinks containers through reverse vending machines or directly through retailers. 

 “We know from a previous consultation there is overwhelming public support for the deposit return scheme, which should make it easy for consumers to return drinks containers for recycling and also reduce littering. In countries with existing schemes the return rates can be 85-98% for collection and recycling of plastic drinks containers. The scheme can create high-value, uncontaminated recycling streams which should advantage UK producers and incentivise investment in the sector.”

The second consultation is for a UK-wide Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system for packaging, which will see producers of packaging pay the full net costs of the material they place on the market throughout its life cycle under the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

In the existing system it’s estimated that producers only currently fund around 10% of the costs of managing packaging waste. The rest is largely met by public funding through waste management in local councils. 

Minister Poots has welcomed the consultation by stating:  “By placing full responsibility on producers of packaging there will be a shift in costs to producers of around £35 million per year for Northern Ireland which is a significant saving to the public. Modulated fees will be designed to reward producers who use easily recycled packaging and to penalise producers who use hard-to-recycle packaging. 

“This will incentivise businesses to design and use packaging that is easier to re-use and/or recycle and to increase the recycling of packaging waste. The consultation is also seeking views on mandatory take-back and recycling of single use take away cups. Packaging recycling targets are set out to 2030 for glass, paper, wood, plastic, aluminium and steel, which will exceed those set by the European Commission.

“I would encourage everyone with an interest, stakeholders, industry, and the general public, to actively participate in these consultations which are open to 4 June 2021.”

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