The UK could adopt a Scandinavian deposit-based system for recycling bottles in an effort to reduce levels of unnecessary waste.
Government advisers visited Norway to investigate the country’s industry-led scheme credited with increasing plastic bottle recycling levels to 97 per cent. In the UK, figures show that only around half of all plastic bottles get recycled.
The UK’s waste problem has worsened since the beginning of the year after China stopped accepting foreign waste. In recent years China has taken 500,000 tons of plastic from the UK a year.
The Norwegian method of encouraging recycling is believed to be one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways of tackling plastic waste.
The Norwegian government decided the best method would be to put a tax on every bottle that’s not recycled – then leave the operating details of the scheme up to business.
Consumers pay a small additional charge on each bottle they buy. When the bottle is returned either to the shop or a recycling machine, the deposit is refunded. A charge of 1 Norwegian Kroner (9p) is applied to each standard 500ml bottle, and a 2.5 Kroner deposit (23p) for larger bottles.
Shops are given a small handling fee for taking the returned bottles. Recycling machines, often found in supermarkets, read the barcodes of the bottles and usually offer customers vouchers for the shop, or the option of making a charitable donation. The scheme is partly funded by the unclaimed deposits, and the drinks manufacturers pay the rest.
The deposit-return machine accepts only two types of plastic bottle, with approved labels and even approved glue to fix the labels. This allows the labels to be stripped easily, and simplifies recycling.
Similar schemes are in operation in other Nordic nations, Germany, and some states in the US and Canada. Government advisors are also intrigued by the example of Lithuania, which is said to have achieved a 93% return rate in just three years.
In the UK over 35.8 million bottles are consumed each day, with 16 million of these failing to reach plastic recycling facilities. The UK government’s working party will point at Norway’s method as an example of an effective solution to the problem.
Scotland has already committed to a deposit return scheme, without details so far.