The need for a deposit return scheme

A Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) is a system where consumers pay an up-front deposit on an item (such as a sealed drink), at a point of purchase, which is redeemed on return of the empty drinks container.

In other words, you’re buying the contents, but renting the container, obtaining your deposit back on its return. This means that high-quality plastic material is kept ‘in the loop’ and is much easier to recycle into different products, reducing the number of new bottles or drinks containers needing to be made from virgin material.

DRS systems are a proven way to capture material through a circular system and dramatically increase recycling and reuse. Recycling rates of over 90% are common in well-designed and all-in Deposit Return Schemes.

The UK Environment Act became law in 2021, and it acts as the UK’s new framework for environmental protection, including powers to implement a Deposit Return Scheme.

Despite this, it has taken the UK government 7 years to get to this point and in June this year, they delayed the UKs deposit return scheme for a third time! This means they will have taken over 9 years to implement the promised scheme.

What pollution does the DRS include?

This scheme originally proposed to include Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles, glass bottles, and steel and aluminium cans, but glass is, frustratingly, expected to be excluded, despite governments across the UK promising the inclusion of glass. There are significant benefits to the inclusion of glass in a deposit return scheme, including the expected economic benefit to the tune of 2.3 billion higher than when excluded.

The fragile nature of glass means that it can often break when in the environment causing serious risk of injury to both humans and wildlife. Capturing these products for recycling before they enter the environment is one of many ways in which pollution and waste can be reduced. Including glass will also hugely reduce the CO2 emissions associated with producing and recycling it.

Current status:


The UK Government for England, the Welsh Government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland response for introducing a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland was published earlier this year in January 2023. Whilst Scotland’s scheme, planned for delivery in August this year, was recently delayed along with the remainder of the UK’s schemes.


We want the UK government to quit their delaying. People and the ocean are calling for this simple scheme to put us on track for a circular economy. We want the scheme to include glass. The inclusion will make the most effective, most environmentally friendly and most comprehensive scheme.

Meanwhile 8 billion containers enter the environment for every year of delay.