Have we got the bottle ?

September has seen the publication of an important report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) – “Have we got the bottle ?”. The report is the result of research CPRE have just completed which shows that the reintroduction of a bottle deposit scheme (covering glass and plastic bottles and aluminium cans) is entirely feasible and would, as many people have always maintained, make a significant impact on the litter problem in this country.

I am sure that many of us remember the good old days when we would take our empty pop bottles back to the shop and reclaim the deposit money with great glee, particularly when we were of tender years and needed to supplement our pocket money. The report reminds us that this system was commonplace until the 1970s (when plastic bottles started to take over the world) and, indeed, still operates in some places – notably in Scotland, where AG Barr, makers of the matchless Irn Bru, seems to be one of very few keeping the faith alive. And, of course, The Milkman (himself a dying breed) is the iconic and age-old bottle re-user.

One of the traditional objections to the introduction of a bottle deposit scheme is that of cost, an issue of particular concern to the drinks industry. The CPRE report tackles this question and concludes that the cost to industry would be around £212 million per year. This compares with an annual cost to consumers in unclaimed deposits of £491 million and annual savings to local authorities of around £160 million in “avoided waste management costs”.

One of the fascinating conclusions of this report is the staggering estimated value of the reduction in litter in the environment that a bottle deposit scheme would achieve – this is posited at £1.2 billion per annum. There are all sorts of arguments about the impact that litter makes and what types of litter are most numerous and have most impact. But there can be no denying that the presence of glass bottles (often smashed), aluminium cans and plastic bottles have a huge impact on turning a potentially beautiful place into a grot spot.

Personally, I would like to add one further piece of research to the argument. This is the study carried out by Jonathan Shepherd (Director, Violence Research Group and Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Cardiff University). He reported :
“In a comparison of Cardiff and Helsinki, much less frequent glass injury recorded in the Finnish capital’s main accident and emergency department was mainly explained by the glass-litter buy-back scheme there.”

It will be interesting to see what now happens to the idea of a bottle deposit scheme in the UK and whether we have indeed got the bottle to implement such a scheme.

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