Concerns about flat-rate DRS reiterated as UK consultation starts

Alupro executive director Rick Hindley

Alupro, the aluminium packaging recycling organisation, has repeated its concern that a flat-rate UK deposit return scheme (DRS) would unfairly penalise sales of drinks cans in favour of other packaging materials such as PET bottles.

The comments from Alupro executive director Rick Hindley came as the UK’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) launched new consultations last week (24 March) into extended producer responsibility (EPR) and a DRS for packaging.

Hindley is particularly concerned about how the DRS will be implemented in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A separate DRS for Scotland was passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2020 and goes live in July 2022.

“Aiming to tackle plastic pollution, increase recycling rates, improve recyclate quality and minimise litter, England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s DRS is set to be rolled-out over the next few years,” said Hindley. “However, the unique market dynamics of the UK mean that simply ‘importing’ a DRS scheme from other countries is not guaranteed to deliver success. As such, adopting best practice design and taking all available insight into consideration will prove pivotal.

“In January, we released a comprehensive report, developed in partnership with independent think-tank London Economics, to analyse the implications of implementing a flat rate versus a variable rate deposit fee. The findings were clear – a flat rate DRS would result in 10 per cent lower return rates for the first two years for all containers; plastic would further dominate the beverage packaging on supermarket shelves and the UK’s thriving aluminium industry, which employs more than 20,000 workers nationwide, would be faced with the real possibility of plant closures.

“Conversely, a variable rate fee would see the government achieve its 90 per cent return rate target almost a year earlier, leading to a higher recycling rate and less litter on the streets – in essence, the best solution by far from an environmental and economic perspective. While there have been suggestions that a variable rate would be far too complex for shoppers, recent research disproves this view, with consumers overwhelmingly supporting higher deposits for larger containers.

“As consultations commence, it’s imperative that the government takes the valuable views of consumers and the packaging industry into close consideration when discussing introduction and implementation. Failure to do so could prove disastrous.” 

While the plan is to introduce the DRS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2024, campaign group Friends of the Earth has called for this date to be brought forward to 2023 and for the scheme to be comprehensive, including bottles, cans and cartons of all sizes.

The news comes as Europe’s aluminium beverage can industry targets 100 per cent recycling by 2030.