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Bold move on deposit return

Zero Waste Scotland welcomes the news that the Scottish Government is pressing ahead with plans for a deposit return scheme for drinks containers.

Iain Gulland | 11 Sep 17

Our research has previously highlighted this is an idea that could have a real impact on recycling and litter. 

Now we are charged with co-ordinating design of the best possible system for Scotland together with key partners.  It’s a bold step forward.

A deposit scheme builds on the success of the 5p carrier bag charge and links to a further action in the Programme for Government to set up an expert group to look at wider options for environmental charging, including on disposable coffee cups.

The potential for such charges to influence individual consumers’ behaviour is huge – interestingly they work so well because the idea of losing something has been proven to be a much more powerful motivator than the idea of gaining something.  Perhaps this is why schemes offering a discount for people using reusable coffee cups have had only limited success.

However, as well as changing what we all do with our waste, we need to change the mind-set of businesses who design and make products.  Our vision for a circular economy, where we shift from being a throw-away society to one which eliminates waste entirely, will require system-wide change.  At its heart that’s about redesigning how we do things.

Just looking at the issue of plastics in our seas, any beachcomber or litter picker will tell you that as well as bottles, cups and bags, there are issues with wipes, cotton buds and other plastic packaging.  Some companies have already taken steps voluntarily to reduce these risks – for instance swapping plastic for a paper-based material for making cotton bud sticks.  But there’s still more that can be done.

Extended producer responsibility is a general name given to schemes where manufacturers and retailers are obligated to support the appropriate stewardship of products through their life to reuse, recycling or recovery.  We currently have such schemes covering waste electricals, packaging, batteries, and end-of-life vehicles.

Zero Waste Scotland supports the idea of a wider, more holistic approach to producer responsibility which could deliver far-reaching change and drive design innovation.   The Scottish Government’s circular economy strategy, Making Things Last, already marks out tyres, furniture and mattresses as problem waste types where a fresh approach could yield benefits.  The aim would be to shape a system where things can be designed to last longer, be easy to repair, have guaranteed availability of spare parts, and ensure the manufacturer is responsible for the stewardship of the product in a way that discourages wasteful disposal.

Such an approach can shift the costs of managing waste and clearing up littered items from the public purse, to producers and their customers, but more importantly it can open up opportunities to create jobs and new economic value from things we’d otherwise have discarded.  Such opportunities go entirely with the grain of Scotland being an innovative, purposeful and creative industrial nation that’s fit for the future.  The time is right to make this happen.



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