UK retailers Co-op and Iceland back deposit return scheme for plastic bottles

Supermarket chains Co-op and Iceland are the first UK retailers to support the government initiative to introduce a bottle Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) to boost plastic recycling rates and decrease ocean pollution.

The news came while the UK government reviews the results of a seven-week consultation on whether to introduce a mandatory  national deposit return scheme in England and Wales- an initiative led by Michael Gove, UK Secretary of State for Environment.

As reported by The Guardian, a survey carried out by Greenpeace revealed that Co-op and Iceland are the first retailers willing to host a bottle deposit return scheme to test the plausibility of the project.

Richard Walker, Director for Sustainability at Iceland Foods said: “Introducing a DRS may well add to our costs of doing business. However, we believe it is a small price to pay for the long term sustainability of this planet. I urge all other retailers to do the right thing and follow suit”.

Jo Whitfield, the Retail Chief Executive at the Co-op said that the company would strongly support such a scheme by saying: “The Co-op is in favour of creating a deposit return scheme which increases the overall recycling of packaging and significantly reduces litter and importantly helps tackle marine pollution”.

A bottle Deposit Return Scheme works by consumers paying a small deposit for the plastic bottle they buy, which is then fully refundable once the empty bottle is returned.  As Greenpeace explains, it is like buying the content but borrowing the bottle.

DRS is seen as a very effective tool to increase the recycling of bottles and divert plastic waste from the oceans.

Mr. Walker added that the plastic bottles deposit return scheme in Norway has led to 96 percent of all bottles being returned and that the UK needs to address the issue of 16 million single-use plastic bottles being disposed every day, which causes unprecedented damage to the ecosystem.

Other major supermarket retailers are encouraging the implement the scheme.  Tesco said that it needs to be “as easy and accessible for consumers as possible” and “ensures good quality” for end use. Marks & Spencer acknowledged the need to increase recycling rates for plastic bottles with a mandatory DRS being “an important solution to consider”.

Waitrose argued that a kerbside recycling scheme would be a more effective solution, but it is willing to collaborate with the government to consider its feasibility.

Some supermarkets argued against the scheme; Morrisons expressed concerns about the cost, Aldi called for a more holistic approach, and similarly Sainsbury’s argued that drink containers are only a small part of the broader waste and recycling challenge.

Louise Edge, an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace commented on the results of the survey by saying: “It is possible to prevent throwaway plastic polluting our rivers and oceans, but to do this we really need companies to step up to the plate”.

“Iceland and Co-op have shown some vision and set the standard – now it’s time for other companies to follow suit and start publicly backing deposit return schemes”. 


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