DEPOSIT return schemes around the world show the operation of separate systems in different regions can work and could provide a useful example for the UK, an environmental consultant has said.

Plans for Scotland to introduce the recycling initiative for drinks containers such as bottles and cans are in jeopardy after the UK Government rejected the inclusion of glass.

It has claimed deposit return schemes needed to be consistent across the UK and has only granted a partial exemption to the Internal Market Act, which would exclude glass containers in Scotland.

The move comes after the Tories backtracked on a 2019 manifesto pledge to include glass in a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for England, while proposals for a scheme in Wales still include glass.

Daniel Stunell, managing consultant with global environmental research consultancy Eunomia, pointed out there were examples in other countries where DRS schemes were not operating in the same way nationally.

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“Australia has provincial schemes, which are different across different provinces – the deposit level is the same, and the coverage is usually the same, but they are managed separately, and they’ve been introduced at different times,” he said.

“Some American states have them, some don’t, and again, Canada has provincial schemes for deposit return.

Europe doesn’t have any below the level of an EU member state, but actually if you look at Australia, the US or Canada, there are deposit return schemes that are state or provincial rather than the whole national market and there are ways that they have made that work.

“So that is quite a useful case study from the UK perspective.”

Stunell said there were around 13 deposit return schemes up and running in Europe – ranging from Finland which has had some sort of scheme since the 1950s to the most recently launched in Slovakia.

He said: “It’s becoming the norm, I would say, in terms of the policy response.

“The other thing is part of the debate across the UK nations has obviously been around glass – more than half of the existing schemes in Europe have glass in, so it’s not universal, but it’s not exceptional either.

“It’s more expensive to include it in the running of the scheme and that’s largely because it’s quite a heavy container. It can create some particular issues in terms of the machine needs to be able to handle glass.

“For the plastic and metal containers, the machine can just crush them. You can crush glass, but it’s a slightly different mechanical operation just because of the nature of the material construction.”

Stunell said the benefits of DRS were not just about encouraging more recycling, but also improving the quality of the material being returned, as well as reducing litter.

“The recycling gains are good, but actually, it is one of the few policy mechanisms that can really drive those improvements in litter,” he added.

“As a potential litterer, you are now incentivised not to do it, as it costs you 20p to throw one of these containers away. But equally, as a good citizen, you’re effectively rewarded with 20p every time you pick it up.

“I’m a keen mountaineer in Scotland and was recently walking with one of my friends along the roadside in the Highlands.

“We picked up the containers and thought, well, if there was a deposit on all of these, could we buy a pint in the pub? We probably could have got half a pint each on that particular stretch of road.

“There is a motivation for people to actually not just not drop it, but to pick it up if it is dropped.”

The UK Government wants to introduce its DRS in 2025, while in Scotland the planned start date is March next year, after being delayed from August.

Stunell said he would expect return rates to reach 90% within two to three years of introduction.

“Provided the system works and you can get your money back, it doesn’t need to be a big deal for consumers,” he said.

“You can choose what to do. If you want to bulk up the containers and take them with your weekly shop, fine. If you want to send your 10-year-old down to the corner shop in the evening with a couple of containers, you can do that, too.”

He added: “You can look at places in the rural Highlands and say you’re a long way from the shop, but if you are going to the shop, you just need to take the containers with you.

“Norway’s got one, Iceland’s got one – these are countries that have very big geography, very sparsely populated areas. There’s nothing uniquely challenging about Scotland in terms of how that works.”