Better recycling: plastic bottles

While many people in the UK believe we are doing our fair share of recycling, there is much more that could be done. In over 20 countries worldwide there are deposit schemes for the recycling of plastic bottles and cans; something that should be considered here too. These nations have deposit machines in supermarkets which give you ‘money back’ from recycled products. This however comes at a cost, with a ‘rent’ being added to the price of these products, which is earned back when they are deposited. 

Currently in the UK, around 13 billion plastic drinks bottles are consumed per year and more than three billion of these are not recycled. Incentivising recycling could be key to increasing recycling rates among the public. This has proven successful in Norway, where the recycling rate for PET plastic bottles is now 94%. 

A key issue to consider however is where the funds for planning and installing these systems will come from; in Germany the system cost approximately £600m to set up and costs £700m in maintenance annually. Who forks out for these costs varies between nations, with some making the investment the responsibility of plastic producers, others putting the onus on drinks companies, and some governments spending the money. Currently plastic bottle producers only contribute 10% to the cost of recycling them, something widely criticised by environmental campaigners, while smaller manufacturers are worried about how these increased costs will affect developing businesses. Where the unclaimed money will be used is another issue, with some nations allowing the retailers to keep the excess while others ensure that it is donated to charitable causes such as environmental organisations. The British Plastics Federation estimates it could cost £1b to implement in the UK. 

There is another unlikely benefit to this scheme. In Germany, people give their empty plastic bottles to homeless people as a method of helping them to get an income. This has anecdotally helped a number of these people to save sufficient funds for both food and shelter and has been a contributing factor to helping them get off the streets. Searching for plastic bottles to recycle acts as a job and can help give people a sense of purpose they may otherwise have been lacking, helping them to improve their quality of life.  



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Laura Taylor

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November 2021
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