Optimising Recycling Policy in the UK: The UK’s Deposit Return Scheme

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Kükenthal, Vanessa Charlotte 
Mitchell, Ben 
Mounzer, Yasmin 
Rtabi, Abla 

A Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) is a system where a deposit fee is charged at the point of purchase of a product, typically a beverage container, which is then refunded upon its return. The aim is to encourage consumers to shift from a disposable culture to a circular economy model that promotes the collection, recycling, and reuse of packaging materials. By increasing collection rates, DRSs also aim to address issues of litter and pollution associated with beverage packaging. The success of such schemes depends on identifying the optimal deposit fee to create an effective financial incentive without increasing the initial purchase price more than is necessary. The UK currently uses kerbside collection to gather and recycle beverage packaging, however Defra will launch a DRS in 2025 with an as of yet unspecified deposit fee (applying to England, Wales, and Northern Ireland). Scotland is launching a devolved scheme in August 2023 which will use a deposit fee of 20p. These schemes need appropriate deposit fee values to reach their collection targets. To this end, this paper presents appropriate deposit values for glass, plastic, and can beverage containers, based on an analysis of the influence of deposit values on consumers' willingness to return beverage packaging. Using a single-bounded dichotomous choice model and a probit regression, consumers’ willingness to pay (WTP) for not returning containers is investigated. Results are controlled for socio-demographic and habitual impacts. The expected WTP equals £0.17, £0.19, and £0.19 for glass, plastic, and cans, with upper confidence bounds of £0.21, £0.25, and £0.25 respectively. The study also found that the most important barriers to the DRS are the lack of space in people’s homes to store the containers and the disbelief in the overall recycling system. Therefore, for effective operation and adherence to the precautionary principle, this study recommends that the deposit management organisation should implement a flexible deposit value higher than £0.21 for glass bottles, £0.25 for plastic bottles, and £0.25 for cans. The findings of this review can inform the implementation of the planned beverage container DRS in the UK and help ensure its success in increasing collection rates and promoting a sustainable circular economy model.

Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), recycling, DEFRA, beverage containers
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Cambridge Journal of Science and Policy
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Cambridge University Science and Policy Exchange
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