The Resources and Waste Strategy sets out the Government’s plans to reduce, reuse, and recycle more than we do now. I know the Government’s target is to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste throughout the life of the 25 Year Environment Plan.
The Environment Act 2021 includes new powers to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks containers. This will recycle billions more plastic bottles and stop them being landfilled or littered. I believe that this will help to change consumer behaviours with potential knock-on effects to other environmental activities.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has now consulted twice on introducing a DRS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with the most recent consultation held in 2021. This second consultation has closed and Government is analysing the responses to that consultation. In March, details of the scope of the scheme were announced, and Defra continues to work on finalising the remainder of the policy with a view to publishing a full Government response soon. An impact assessment for the introduction of the scheme will also be published.
I understand that Ministers anticipate that the introduction of a DRS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would be in late 2024 at the earliest, subject to the outcome of the second consultation. This presents a realistic yet ambitious timetable to ensure that Defra is implementing a DRS that will be as effective as possible in achieving the UK’s objectives of boosting recycling levels, offering greater opportunities to collect higher quality, uncontaminated materials in greater quantities, thus promoting a circular economy and reducing littering.
As part of the response to the consultation on Extended Producer Responsibility, the Government announced any DRS in England and Northern Ireland would not include glass. I am aware that concerns were raised that including glass in a DRS risked reducing the amount of glass available to remelt, whilst making reverse vending machines larger and more complicated, as well as causing extra risk to both shop staff and consumers. However, glass will be subject to regulation through Extended Producer Responsibility and continue to be recycled at the kerbside.
More widely, the Government introduced one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products in 2018 and brought in measures to ban plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in 2020. The use of single-use carrier bags has reduced by 97 per cent since the introduction of the 5p charge and ministers increased the charge to 10p and extended it to all retailers in May 2021.