Scotland ‘wasted’ 920 million drinks containers in 2019

Campaigners warn next government must not delay introduction of deposit return scheme for drinks cans and bottles.

Scotland ‘wasted’ 920 million drinks containers in 2019 nikom1234 via iStock
Deposit return scheme is scheduled to begin in Scotland in July 2022.

The next Scottish government is being warned it must not delay the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks cans and bottles, with campaigners claiming 3.4 billion of them have been “wasted” since the move was first announced.

In 2019 alone, the most recent year for which figures are available, 920.2 million empty drinks containers in Scotland ended up either as litter or being sent to landfill or incinerated, a report found.

That figure comes from Reloop, an international non-profit organisation specialising in resource and waste policy.

It has prompted calls for the next government to ensure plans for a deposit return scheme, due to begin in July 2022, are not delayed any further.

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Reloop’s research found that in Scotland in 2019, 437.4 million cans, 334.9 million PET plastic bottles and 147.9 million glass bottles were littered, dumped in landfill or incinerated – although the real figure could be even higher as the data does not include empty wine and spirits containers.

Based on that, campaigners have calculated that 3.4 billion cans and bottles have been wasted in the 1,332 days since the deposit return scheme was announced.

Under the scheme, shoppers pay an additional charge when buying drinks in cans and bottles and these fees are refunded when they return the empties for recycling.

But with the scheme not due to begin for over a year, campaigners estimate a further 1.1 billion cans and bottles will be wasted in that time.

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The annual figure for empty drinks containers being littered, landfilled or incinerated amounts to 168 cans and bottles for every person in Scotland – with only Portugal, Greece and Hungary performing worse in this regard in 2017.

In contrast, Germany introduced deposit return in 2003 and an average of just 10 containers are wasted a year for every person.

If Scotland’s deposit return scheme is as effective as European initiatives, campaigners claim the average number of cans and bottles going to waste could drop from 920.2 million a year to 204.8 million.

John Mayhew, director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, which is running the Have You Got The Bottle? campaign, said the new figures are a “shot across the bows of anyone in industry or politics who wants to try to delay our deposit return system still further”.

He added: “Parliament gave ministers the power to act on this vast source of waste and litter back in 2009, and any further delay is simply unacceptable.

“The big retailers have done well out of the pandemic. They know how to take cans and bottles back, because they already do it in eight countries across the European Union.

“Similarly, it’s time for producers to step up and take responsibility for their products as soon as possible, as many of them now accept they must.”

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Mr Agnew said the scale of the litter problem Scotland faces “must now be obvious to everyone”, as he urged the next Scottish government to “act as quickly as possible to confirm there will be no further delays to deposit return”.

Reloop executive director Samantha Harding said its analysis had “established for the first time the substantial scale of drinks containers wasted across Scotland”.

She added: “The problems shown in this data indicate that Scotland is still aligned with the other European countries which have not yet adopted deposit return – the only system proven to deliver a significant reduction in the number of cans and bottles wasted, while also securing the highest volume of the best quality materials for recycling.

“Modern deposit systems are most often set up within 12 months, so we would recommend the next Scottish government moves as quickly as possible when implementing this fundamental circular economy measure.

“Until deposits come in, Scotland is destined to remain amongst the worst-performing countries in Europe in terms of wastage and the pollution that entails.”