20p for a Clean Planet – Scotland Leads the way with the Circular Economy

Published in online paper Bella Caledonia 09.05.19

The environmental movement is racking up victories as consciousness breaks through and policy catches up. Environmental campaigners today welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement of the scope of Scotland’s deposit return system, which will be the first country in the UK to introduce such a scheme. Ministers have confirmed that glass, cans and some plastic containers will be covered. The deposit will be set at 20p for all containers, and retailers of all sizes will be paid by the system to accept returns. This may be the start of the circular economy beginning to capture the public imagination.

The announcement marks a major victory for Have You Got The Bottle?, which launched in 2015 to press for deposits on drinks containers in Scotland, and has long argued for a system which includes as many materials as possible. Not only do such systems reduce litter and boost recycling, but they also reduce the risk that producers will switch to less sustainable materials in order to avoid having to take part in the system. Research commissioned by the campaign indicates that the system proposed by Scottish Ministers today will, when operational, divert around 140,000 empty cans and bottles from litter to recycling every day.

Jenni Hume, Campaign Manager for the Have You Got The Bottle? campaign, said:
“The deposit system set out today is a major step in the right direction, setting the pace for the rest of the UK, and it will have a substantial positive impact on litter and recycling. It’s great news that the Scottish Government are ready for the system to expand in future to include more drinks containers, which will be both more effective and easier for the public to use.”

Dr Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:
“This is great news: the system announced today will provide a huge boost for recycling of bottles and cans, reduce litter across Scotland, and save both materials and climate change emissions. This is a great start to getting the public to do even more recycling and it is the kind of system which can be expanded to other products over time. This scheme will set a good benchmark to influence the thinking for a similar scheme for England and the ideal is that the two schemes will eventually work in the exactly the same way.”

But the scheme was also part of an international day of action for a ‘Clean Planet’, a global network of campaigners and organisations have come together to call for world-wide deposit return systems to stop the environmental damage caused by the vast amounts of drinks containers produced, sold and thrown away every day. At 9.00 am on 9 May 2019 in each country, over a 24-hour period, a network of groups from 23 countries across five continents today released a series of aerial photographs and videos of messages written on hillsides, beaches and buildings calling for a ‘Clean Planet’.

The global stunt is aimed at raising awareness of the environmental impact of drinks packaging, with an international call for action for governments across the world to extend, update or introduce a deposit return system in each country respectively, as the best solution to drinks container pollution.

In a joint statement the Clean Planet campaigners said:
“The scale of the pollution problem requires immediate global action. Now is the time for every government around the world to stand up and take action against the environmental devastation caused by drinks cans, bottles and cartons – we cannot wait any longer for a clean planet.
“Through effective deposit return systems that collect and accept every single type of drinks container, introduced right across the world, we have a chance to stop choking our planet with the trillions of bottles, cans and cartons that are produced every single year.”

Tara Proud, Volunteer & Community Engagement Manager for MCS Scotland, said:
“The case for deposit return in this country has been built by many people, across NGOs, politics and business, and with the strong support of the public. Our Sea Champion volunteers have had a key role to play in that, helping produce the citizen data which showed the role an inclusive deposit return system could play in beating beach litter. Almost 3,000 members of the public took part in the Great British Beach Clean in Scotland alone last year, generating the supporting research which helped get us here, and I am so proud of the contribution our volunteers have made. There’s much more still to be done, but this is a great day for us, and I hope one day deposit return will be in place across the whole world.”

When introduced, effective deposit return systems simultaneously boost recycling rates for drinks containers to more than 90%, reduce the environmental damage they cause by stopping them from being littered and make producers of these products responsible for the cost of the waste that they create.

In the process, more recycled content is used to create drinks containers and more refillable containers are used as part of a circular economy, which in turn creates jobs, reduces waste and slows down the depletion of natural resources.

In 2015, it was it was estimated that 1.6 trillion drinks containers were sold across the world. Using growth projections based on the increase in the numbers drinks container sold from 2014 to 2015, global sales of aluminium cans, glass and plastic bottles, as well as drinks cartons, pouches, sachets, look set to reach 1.9 trillion in 2019.

Yet ineffective waste collection and recycling systems across the world mean that a large number of these single-use products are left polluting the environment, and many that are collected as waste are either sent for incineration or buried in landfill, rather than recycled.

This is a breakthrough for Scotland, a genuine game-changer for changing our relationship to waste and the throwaway society.