News & Events

Wednesday 05 June, 2019

Considerations for a successful modern Deposit Return Scheme (DRS)

Nick Brown, Head of Sustainability, Coca-Cola European Partners, Great Britain

Today, waste and recycling form important talking points in the news, with people looking for new ways to address the issues of littering, consumer engagement and materials quality. However, the solution the beverage industry is looking for need not be a brand-new strategy. Instead, we can look across the seas and even back in time to find the answers that we need.

In the past, packaging materials were difficult to source and manufacture, and many companies used refillable packaging. Companies needed ways to make sure they got their valuable materials back to reuse them. A popular method for achieving this was the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), with vendors putting a small surcharge on products which would then be refunded on the packaging’s return. As supply chains have become more complex in recent years many have moved away from DRSs, but that is not to say they have disappeared entirely and a well-designed modern DRS can help increase the recycling and reduce the littering of valuable packaging materials.

A modern DRS needs to be enabled by the best new technology, and it needs to work for retailers, local authorities and most importantly the public. Ultimately, the scheme has to drive a major change in the way the public dispose of the packaging they use at the end of its life, and so the public have to be at the heart of any scheme. Reviewing the 40-odd DRSs we are involved in around the world, there are some common themes which contribute to making a DRS successful. With our expertise in this area, we have been helping industry, retailers and policy makers understand the importance of things like how the scheme is governed and communicated to the public; how the monies involved are managed properly; and how the inevitable abuse of a scheme can be minimised. Although many in industry are supportive of a well-designed DRS, it is really important that all parties come together to support one scheme, so it must be underpinned by well-structured legislation.

The Scottish Government have been developing the idea of a DRS for Scotland for several years, and last month announced its preferred design principles for a scheme in Scotland. We welcome much of what was announced, particularly their plans to include all plastic beverage bottles and cans in a comprehensive scheme where the public return used packaging to retail outlets. Through the new Scottish DRS Implementation Advisory Group, we will continue to work on the more detailed design challenges like the inclusion of glass packaging; how the value of the deposit is set; and the design measures needed to protect the scheme from abuse if there is a significant gap between the launch of a scheme in Scotland and elsewhere in Britain. We fully recognise the desire of the Scottish Government to move quickly in the implementation of a scheme, but with the level of investment and public engagement required, we all need to work together to put a plan in place to implement a credible and effective scheme from day one.

We understand that the introduction of a DRS scheme will be a major change to our customers and their shoppers. We have extensive knowledge of how different authorities manage DRSs elsewhere in the world, and how best to communicate with shoppers to maximise engagement. We have been working with many of our customers to design the best solutions for their business and expect the industry to come together, to develop a scheme, which works for everyone, improves recycling, and reduces litter.

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