Preparing for Zero Waste Return

As part of a refined recycling system, the Scotish parliament has voted in favour of a deposit return scheme, set to be introduced in July 2022.
Andrea Falco, HSM UK

And as the first part of the UK introduces the scheme, which makes it easier to recycle used bottles and cans, Andrea Falco of HSM UK questions how long will it be until England, Wales and NI follow and how retailers can prepare.

It’s estimated that UK consumers drink their way through a staggering 14 billion plastic drinks bottles, 9 billion drinks cans and 5 billion glass bottles each year. But as consumption has increased, so too has consumer awareness.

Over the course of the past few years, the approach to recycling and in particular, single use plastic, has drastically changed. Our consumption habits, paired with damning news and industry reports has helped highlight our recycling and waste pitfalls. Now, as consumers recognise their part in the plastic crisis, businesses and decision makers are feeling the pressure to improve their green credentials – seeing authorities introduce a host of productive schemes, including the UK’s Plastic Pact and now Scotland’s deposit return scheme (DRS).

However, the introduction of a DRS in England, Wales and NI is subject to further data and analysis, with authorities waiting for more information on the costs and benefits of running such a scheme. But with bottle collections, and plastic waste in general, still a pressing issue, it’s surely now only a matter of time until we see the introduction of DRS across the entire UK and for that, retailers must prepare.

A mixed view

From 2022, Scotland’s DRS will see people paying a small deposit of 20p each time they purchase a drink in a single-use container. After consuming that drink they can then collect their initial deposit back by returning the empty plastic or glass bottle (and metal cans), to any local shop or takeaway restaurant.

The Scottish Government has stated they aim to ‘capture 90% of drinks containers sold’ for recycling. And they’re not the first nation to introduce a DRS either. As of 2019, 45 countries around the world have already adopted this system (or something to a similar effect). In fact, countries such as Norway and Australia have been successfully using the system for years now, with proven results being made shortly after rolling it out to the public.

So with success being proven, why hasn’t the rest of the UK followed the crowd? In August, MPs in England urged the prime minister to back an ‘all-in’ DRS for drinks containers, with the view that introducing the system by 2023 could be the answer to tackling plastic waste. Despite leaving the EU, the government has stated its intent to match their targets of collecting 90% of all single-use plastic bottles placed on the market by 2029 – so could a DRS help achieve that?

The process itself sounds simple enough, yet, there are logistical concerns. Retailers for example would see a complete overhaul to their systems. With customers regularly returning plastics and other materials they would need to implement effective methods to manage the collected waste. The introduction of such a scheme would bring with it added costs (albeit initially covered) and at the very least an initial disruption to the processes that many warehouses and backrooms already have in place.

There’s also fines to consider too. Project leader of the deposit return scheme, Stuart Murray last year stated, “The deposit return scheme is ultimately an obligation on the producers of the packaging to take the packaging back for recycling. They have a number of obligations in the regulations, as do retailers.”. With that in mind, should a retailer fail to prepare for a DRS, it’s specified that fines of up to £10,000 can be issued. And right now, in the midst of an economic crisis, you can see why some have raised concerns about how achievable this is.

Preparing Early

With an onus placed firmly on retailers, it’s imperative to prepare early, readying themselves for the influx of used cans, glass bottles and plastic drinks containers that will be returned under the scheme – should it be introduced.

Already, drinks bottles that are made from polythene terephthalate (PET bottles) are an indispensible part of today’s retail industry. With a DRS system in place, the collection, disposal and recycling of PET bottles will become more essential than ever and retail organisations will need to rise to the new challenge.

To begin with, those set to collect PET bottles must begin to forecast their own collection levels, working out the warehouse/backroom space needed to do so. By predicting the amount of bottles they’ll collect, decision makers will begin to understand the in-house processes and machines they must have in place to deal with those volumes. For example, PET-Crushers can reduce the space that’s required for plastic waste by reducing the volume of empty bottles by 25-30%. But for larger scale projects with a higher volume of plastic waste, more expansive crusher-baler combinations are able to reduce volume by up to 90% while producing compact bales of raw material.

With an estimated goal of 90% of drinks containers being returned, the environmental technology teams have in place will become even more crucial to their operations. It’s key for decision makers to seek out their options early, finding tailored compressing and invalidating solutions that can then become a vital part of their backroom operation.

A Better Tomorrow

With sustainability and recycling pressures building and evident success of DRS systems across the world, it’s surely only a matter of time until the remainder of the UK passes a DRS bill.

Put simply, retailers must address this probability sooner rather than later. These systems can offer us a more sustainable future, keeping plastics away from our oceans, with retailers playing a big part in the process. But without concrete plans for their backroom logistics in place, the introduction of a new coherent system could leave too many organisations fatefully drowning in a sea of their own plastic.




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