Dave Dalton is Chief Executive of British Glass.
With the Prime Minister and her Government now in situ, the desire to get on and deliver an ambitious policy programme that benefits British businesses and consumers alike, and tackles the immediate pressures faced by the nation, is ever apparent.
But as new ministers hit the ground running, looking to stamp their mark on new briefs, it is vital that this does not result in the pausing or dropping of vital policy development undertaken by their predecessors, especially where this delivers growth within an industry coupled with clear, evidenced environmental benefits.
The glass industry in the UK has a longstanding and proud heritage, and we want to see that not only continue in the months and years ahead, but thrive for generations to come.
That is why our industry has consistently called for glass bottles to be excluded from proposed Deposit Return Schemes (DRS), and instead capture and recycle these bottles alongside glass food packaging as part of improved, consistent kerbside collections within a world-leading system of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
Therefore, in the UN’s International Year of Glass, our industry was delighted to see British and Northern Irish governments commit to keeping all glass packaging within EPR, and not a DRS.
This is undoubtedly the right move. Including glass in the DRS would have perversely increased carbon emissions, increased plastic consumption, and would’ve been extremely inconvenient to consumers lugging heavy – and breakable – glass bottles back to return points, which won’t always be located close to home.
Sticking with recycling glass bottles at kerbside will deliver a higher recycling rate, which is already at 74 per cent for glass, and is going to be better for our environment. And it’s what the public want: a recent YouGov survey has shown that over 70 per cent of people are already satisfied with the current collection system for glass packaging.
However, there’s a real problem. Whilst the British Government and Northern Irish Executive have made the right call to keep glass beverage bottles out of their schemes, Scottish and Welsh governments have meanwhile outlined their intention to include glass bottles in theirs, despite clear evidence to contrary, creating serious concerns about how DRS schemes will operate across the UK’s internal borders.
The prospect of having multiple, diverging schemes across the UK will force many drink businesses to make tough decisions, especially smaller businesses in Wales and Scotland.
One consequence is that it’ll drive up cost. Having different schemes in Scotland and Wales would mean having to put different labels on drinks packaging in each country. This could lead to producers withdrawing products from uneconomic markets – or switching to plastic packaging – which will hit both business and consumers hard with high prices and less choice.
It will also lead to greater confusion over what can be recycled properly, and where, for consumers. The Government’s ambition to date has been to introduce consistent collection at kerbside to minimise consumer confusion between different local recycling systems. However, an inconsistent DRS will risk creating more, not less, confusion about how to recycle properly – especially for those living near borders or travelling between countries.
Finally, it will increase the risk of fraud. We know from evidence from other countries that having multiple schemes with different materials in scope will result in scheme fraud, and undermine the purpose introducing such schemes in the first place.
The solution is clear. Keeping glass bottles out of all Deposit Return Schemes in the UK, and instead recycling glass bottles through consistent and improved kerbside collections, will create a level playing field for producers of all sizes to sell in all markets without additional cost or complexity, as well as making it much easier for consumers to recycle their glass bottles.
This is a once-in-a-generation chance to get the UK’s waste and recycling infrastructure right, and the materials included in the scope of the future schemes is a critical piece in that jigsaw. With the new Prime Minister and her government in post, sticking to the right decision will be vital, as will working with counterparts in Scotland and Wales to try and find solutions to the very real concerns of business and consumers across the UK around interoperability.
The simplest solution, the most cost-effective solution, and the solution that is best for our industry and environment alike of course would be for Scottish and Welsh governments to look again at the evidence, and move to excluding glass bottles from their respective schemes.