25 August 2013

If drinks container deposits are the answer then we’re asking the wrong question.

Responding to the Scottish government’s interest in drinks container deposits in Sweden, Jane Bickerstaffe, INCPEN Director says:

"Sweden is very different to Scotland. Sweden does not have a national kerbside collection for all recyclables, unlike Scotland, where local authorities have have done a great job putting in place services to collect recyclable materials from households.  This has resulted in a huge increase in recycling rates. Encouraging the use of existing kerbside and recycling collection schemes also makes good business sense.

"Deposits still operate in Sweden because when deposit-bearing refillable containers were replaced with more resource-efficient containers, they too carried a deposit. In Scotland, consumers stopped returning deposit-bearing containers over two generations ago.

"We want to work with others to tackle all litter and promote recycling. Littering is the result of careless or thoughtless behaviour.  The way to tackle litter is by education, cleaning and law enforcement. This is a far more effective way than a deposit scheme.”


On LITTER, deposits:

  • do not cure the anti-social habit of littering and perversely may increase litter if scavengers empty litter bins to find deposit containers.
  • drinks containers are less than 15% of litter (by any measure). A 2008 survey by Keep Britain Tidy for INCPEN showed drinks container litter at 0.4%.
  • have no effect on littered chewing gum, cig ends, newspapers, banana skins.

On RECYCLING, deposits:

  • have little impact on increasing overall recycling rates.  All they do is separate drinks containers from other recyclables.
  • other recyclables still have to be collected, sorted and cleaned through kerbside collection. 
  • additional transport and sorting cost the environment and the economy.

Businesses are committed to reducing litter and improving recycling.  They play their part in both.

Proponents of deposits support them generally for one, or both, of two reasons.

  • To discourage littering
  • To increase the quantity of containers collected for recycling

We believe deposits are an inefficient, expensive way to address only a small proportion of either issue.  There are more effective, holistic cheaper ways to achieve both objectives:

  • Keep Scotland Beautiful campaigns against littering.  INCPEN and its members, alongside other organisations, support anti-litter campaigns, carry out research, encourage companies to ‘personalise’ the Tidyman logo, and include anti-litter information in schools materials.  Littering needs to become socially unacceptable. To achieve a clean environment people need to be proud of their surroundings and keep it clean, anti-litter laws need to be enforced and accidental litter cleaned up.
  • Encouraging more people to use existing kerbside and other collection schemes, by working with councils on new communications programmes and increasing on-the-go collection, will increase recycling of all recyclables.  Businesses actively support all of these.

Deposits are an expensive, administratively-complex, discriminatory way to target just a comparatively small proportion of recyclables (they do not apply to other types of packaging or newsprint).

Deposits increase costs to consumers and there is limited evidence that they reduce litter. They, in effect, penalise people who already recycle by obliging them to undertake a more burdensome task.

There is no accepted common method of measuring litter but drinks containers, by any measure, are typically less than 15% – a major litter count survey for INCPEN by Keep Britain Tidy showed beverage related litter at 0.4%.

Rather than create new ‘green jobs’, the introduction of a deposit return scheme can result in job losses.

Deposits operate for different reasons in different countries and it is seldom possible to replicate one system in another country. 

Deposits typically achieve a return rate of between 70% and 90% in jurisdictions where consumers never lost the habit of taking deposit-bearing containers back to a shop.

A number of countries have rejected deposits after consideration: Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Poland, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, some US states. The US state of Delaware repealed its deposit law and the Netherlands plans to repeal its law in 2015. 

Germany is the only country where deposits have been introduced on top of a mature recycling system.  Collection via deposits is three times more expensive than through the existing household packaging collection system.

The higher the deposit, the greater the incentive for fraud.  Fraud has been a major issue in Germany, where the deposit is 21p. 



The Industry Council for research on Packaging & the Environment - was set up in 1974 to study the environmental and social impacts of packaging. It draws together an influential group of companies that operate throughout the supply chain and share a common interest in packaging, the environment and sustainable development.

INCPEN has campaigned against littering for many years and has been a member and strong supporter of Keep Britain Tidy.  It also works with the Campaign to Protect Rural England.  It has commissioned numerous pieces of research to better understand the issue.  It encourages its members and other companies to use the Tidyman logo on products likely to be used outdoors.  Anti-littering messages are a key part of INCPEN’s highly respected schools’ literature. 

More information 07788 724817, 0118 925 5992