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Welcoming the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme

David McCann   Fri 27 Jan 2023

The recent announcement of Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) for England, Wales and Northern Ireland is welcome news, and will have a positive environmental impact for Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Deposit Return Scheme, announced by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and set to be introduced in 2025, will incentivise correct disposal of single-use drinks containers through a small, refundable deposit. Materials captured in the NI scheme will be single-use drinks containers made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, steel, and aluminium.

The need for such a scheme is clear. During Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful’s 2021/22 Cleaner Neighbourhoods Survey, 50% of transects (streets, roads and reactional spaces) were recorded as having some form of drinking litter present. This ranged from plastic bottles and metal cans to caps/lids and straws.

The 2019 Litter Composition Analysis revealed that, at any one time, there are potentially 114,368 plastic bottles on our streets, and 158,556 drinks cans (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). This is despite spending tens of millions of pounds on street cleansing.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has consistently advocated for a Deposit Return Scheme, most recently in our No More Time to Waste policy document published earlier this month. This is because Deposit Return Schemes have the potential to increase recycling rates, reduce carbon emissions and reduce litter. The scheme should also greatly reduce the number of plastic items reaching our seas, therefore helping Northern Ireland play its part in tackling marine plastic pollution.

We note that there are differences between the DRS schemes being introduced across the UK. Scotland will launch a DRS in August 2023, while those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland won’t be introduced until 2025. Another point of difference is that the schemes in Scotland and Wales will include glass containers, while those in NI and England will not.

While we would welcome a universal ‘all-in’ Deposit Return Scheme, introduced across the whole of the UK, and preferably also Ireland, at the same time, and accepting the same material types, the scheme outlined will nonetheless have a positive impact for Northern Ireland. We would like to see glass considered for inclusion at a future date and will be calling for any scheme implemented in NI to allow for this expansion in future, thus removing another dangerous and often littered product from our environment.

Our CEO, Dr Ian Humphreys said, “While it would be great to see a consistent DRS scheme being introduced across the UK and Ireland, this remains good news for Northern Ireland. By adopting new progressive policies such as a Deposit Return Scheme we can positively change the way key sectors operate. In the past, we have seen new policies such as the Carrier Bag Levy achieve a great deal and this has now become just a normal part of our retail experience.”