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A deposit with returns for us all

Today I helped launch various new schemes to test how container deposits and ‘reverse vending’ systems might work in Scotland.

Iain Gulland - Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland | 21 Feb 13

The aims of these trials are to understand public acceptance of such schemes and the impact they might have in terms of increasing recycling rates and the quality of materials deposited as well as seeing whether they help prevent litter. I’ve talked up the importance of these trials over the past year, not because I’m particularly pro-deposit return, but because I’m keen to have a debate about what the future might hold for recycling systems here in Scotland.  

I’ve been lucky to see deposit schemes in operation around the world.  In some areas they have helped recycling rates for packaging such as plastic bottles and cans reach 85%, compared with current rates in Scotland of less than 30%. Deposit schemes appear to engage with consumers in a way that many of our kerbside collections only dream about. Isn’t it time we wondered why?

But increasing recycling isn’t the full story. Quality of material is also important, especially if our priority is how to best benefit Scotland’s economy.

In Adelaide in Australia, I toured an aggregation centre for their deposit scheme that has been in place since the 1970s. There I witnessed bales of the highest quality plastics bottles, and cans. An established system for collecting plastic to such an obvious high quality would, I believe, strengthen the business case for plastics reprocessing facilities in Scotland, bringing investment and jobs as well as quality material recycled back into production. A report from Spain on a proposed deposit scheme there suggested that as many as 14,000 jobs could be created. What could a deposit system mean for Scottish jobs?

Of course I accept that there are counter arguments and potential consequences of  moving to a deposit scheme approach and I am, as ever happy, to debate these.  I think it is essential we continue to think about how we collect materials in order to develop our economy, not just for today but into the future.

Anyone who saw the History of Rubbish series on the BBC last year will know that collections systems have always evolved and I have a feeling that things will change again.  Of course, that might not just mean deposit schemes; it could also include shifting to service models, buying not leasing, or more retailer take-back schemes.

We are increasing our understanding of how important it is to look at the whole system in terms of resource supply and use.  The trials we launched today may or may not hold all of the answers, but at the very least they should ignite a debate on how systems might be re-thought to ensure we do get the most from our resources, just as we all believe we should.

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