Why Bottle Deposit Schemes are a Missed Opportunity

Codd Neck Soda Bottles

This article started out as a rant, by me, in the Zero Waste Ireland Facebook group, but I feel so vexed about the confusion surrounding this issue I felt it warranted an article too.

The much-lauded bottle deposit scheme that has just been introduced in England and proposed for here is a fantastic anti-litter initiative but it is not, I repeat not, despite all the spin you’ll hear, a waste reduction measure.

I have no doubt that paying people to put their bottle in a ‘reverse vending machine’ instead of chucking it at the side of the road or placing it in a bin will really help to clean up the litter blight we see around our fair isle. Do you know what else would have worked and with have the added benefit of reducing our overall consumption of plastic, glass or metal? Investing in public fountains and subsidising soda / milk vending machines! If this was the initiative that our politicians were putting their support behind we’d be able to benefit from cheaper (or free) liquids and reduce the number of disposable bottles littered around the country.

You might well ask what’s the harm in installing these ‘reverse vending machines’? Answer: none except for the expense and energy involved in making, transporting, and running them. Plus it’s an completely missed opportunity; yet again our politicians have missed the chance to move society towards waste reduction. Worst still some are even claiming that these bottle deposit schemes are in some way a waste reduction manner. Really? Explain how paying someone to put packaging into a machine will discourage them from buying it in the first place.

In fact in Germany where bottle deposit schemes have been in place for over 15 years they’ve seen retailers switch from reusable glass bottles to single-use plastic bottles.

I would also be concerned about unintended consequences in relation to bin collection charges. If people start exchanging plastic bottles in their green bin for money at these vending machines, will the bin collection companies start increasing collection charges to cover any loss?

I get why their is confusion around this issue. When I first heard this suggested, I thought it was a great idea. It’s only when you really sit down and think about the logic behind it that as a waste reduction measure that you start the see the flaws. Most people don’t have the time (or interest) to do this, which is why I feel compelled, as a waste geek, to clarify some aspects of the debate. If given all the facts and possible alternatives people still want these reverse vending machines, well and good, but I’d hate to think people are supporting this initiative in the misguided belief that it’ll helping reduce waste.



Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

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