In the wake of the success of England’s plastic bag charge we should no take on the scourge of plastic drinks bottle litter: with a deposit return scheme.
What to do about consumption of disposable packaging is one of the most conspicuous and controversial of modern environmental challenges. We all see it every day as between us we generate mountains of greasy plastic film and soiled card and paper. Some of us try to recycle a lot of the rest, the glass and plastic containers, metals and organic waste. Some other people don’t, however. And not only do they not recycle, but they drop recyclable packaging in the street, parks and rivers. Some of it drifts on to the sea to end up in the gut of a whale.
Take a walk along any canal or riverside in any town or city in the country and there are among many others Coke and Pepsi bottles, florescent Lucozade sport containers and the plastic shells that once held a little blob of water from Evian. While the bottles say that they’re recyclable, the fact that they are floating in the water suggests that such information is having limited impact on some people’s behaviour. Consumer education is vital but after decades of exhortations what has been achieved is clearly insufficient.
One thing that we know would work is a deposit charge on such containers. We can be confident of this because of what recently happened with the charge on plastic bags and can be pretty sure that putting a 10p deposit on plastic bottles would have a similarly transformative impact. Those of us old enough also know this because of what we saw growing up in the 1960s, where one source of sweet money was abandoned drinks bottles upon which a deposit could be retrieved.
The big consumer brands behind the most popular drinks have some very clever people working for them. It seems to me that between them and working with policy makers that they could come up with a workable scheme. They all have pretty good-sounding sustainability policies and are for the most part doing some good work on these subjects. If we are serious about pollution, climate change and other environmental questions, however, then something must be done about this.
So come on, let’s get on with it. Let’s come up with a deposit return scheme for plastic drinks bottles, clean up the rivers, make the parks nicer and help protect the whales. It’s not that hard. And we may find that as in the case of the plastic bag charge that what to begin with seemed impossibly difficult turns out to be quite easy, very popular and also transformative.
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