Deposit and Return: Time to bring back 10p for old bottles

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Return of the long-dead tradition is well overdue a comeback to increase recycling rates

One of Britain’s favourite childhood memories is long overdue a comeback in a bid to increase national recycling rates.

Paying a deposit on a glass bottle, which is then refunded when returned to a participating retailer, effectively died out in the UK with the advent of the disposable plastic bottle, but Britain’s fastest-growing waste management and recycling company says now is the time to bring it back.

According to York-based BusinessWaste.co.uk, figures from the United States – where bottle deposits are still widespread – show that the higher the deposit, the more likely a bottle is returned intact.

“We often look at the past with rose-tinted glasses,” says BusinessWaste.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall, “but the bottle deposit was something that really did work.”

In the post-war period, children could make themselves a reasonable fortune by scouring their local area for empty bottles, which they’d then take back to the shop to receive a few pence each.

“It was killed off by plastic bottles, but that came with a legacy of millions of tonnes of waste in hedgerows and kerbs filled with bottles,” says Hall. “It’s time to end this epidemic of wastefulness.”

It’s something that worked very well back then, and can work again now, Business Waste says, and the reasons are simple:

• Recycling glass keeps production costs down for drinks manufacturers and bottlers, as it’s far cheaper to make bottles from used glass than it is to make new from raw materials
• Recycling glass is also greener than using plastic bottles as there are few waste products
• Human nature means that people are more likely to recycle if there is a reward

“The furore over the 5p charge for supermarket carrier bags so how worked up we get as a nation get about very small sums of money,” Hall says.

“We can turn this negative energy into a positive by rewarding customers for returning recyclables.”

BusinessWaste.co.uk says that in the United States, where container deposits are widespread, there’s a 70% return rate when it’s set at 5 cents, rising to a 97% success rate in Michigan where it’s set at 10 cents. In states where there’s no deposit scheme, recycling rates are only 33%.

“If the state of Michigan can achieve a 97% return rate with only a modest bottle deposit, then so can Britain,” BusinessWaste.co.uk ‘s Mark Hall says. “We expect that a scheme set at 10p per bottle will be a roaring success in the UK.

“Not only that, it’ll encourage a new wave of school-age entrepreneurs to get up and set about collecting as many bottles as they can,” he says.

There might even be a modern twist on the idea, BusinessWaste.co.uk suggests.

The burden of paying out return rewards could be switched away from shopkeepers, and could instead be paid onto a loyalty card account which can be “cashed out” at any time.

The reward would naturally be the same as the deposit paid, but it virtually guarantees continued custom and gives a good reason to continue returning used containers.

“Sometimes the old ways really are the best ways, and it’s time we reconsidered container deposit legislation in the UK,” Hall says.

“It’s great for recycling rates, it’s great for British industry, but best of all – it’s great for kids’ pocket money.

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