EXCLUSIVE: Coca-Cola to back deposit return scheme in major U-turn
Plastic bottles - credit: Fotolia
In what will be widely seen as a massive U-turn, the soft-drinks giant Coca-Cola has thrown its support behind calls for the Scottish Government to introduce a deposit return scheme, in an effort to reduce littering and boost recycling.
Deposit return schemes (DRS), in which consumers pay a small sum which is paid back when they return a bottle or can, operate in several European countries.
Environmental groups have urged the Scottish Government to introduce a DRS, forming an alliance through the ‘Have You Got the Bottle’ campaign and arguing the scheme would increase recycling, combat climate change, cut costs for local authorities and boost employment.
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Opponents of the scheme have expressed concern over the impact it would have on small stores with limited space, costs to retailers and the impact on local authority kerbside collections.
Coca-Cola has strongly opposed the idea in the past, telling a 2015 Zero Waste Scotland consultation that “DRS doesn’t encourage packaging reduction or recyclability” and that it was “legally questionable” whether a DRS could be introduced in Scotland without changes to UK legislation first, with the drinks manufacturer instead arguing for local authority kerbside collections.
But the company revealed at a Holyrood event that it has now come out in support of a DRS, with a spokesperson saying “it’s already clear from our conversations with experts that the time is right to trial new interventions such as a well-designed deposit scheme for drinks containers, starting in Scotland where conversations are underway”.
SNP MSP Richard Lochhead, who has pushed for Scotland to introduce DRS, said the move was significant.
The former Cabinet Secretary for the Environment told Holyrood: “I warmly welcome Coca-Cola’s decision to drop their opposition to deposit return schemes in Scotland. There is no doubt this is very significant and will inject fresh momentum and more credibility into the case for such a scheme to help boost recycling and tackle litter.
“I am sure this development will reverberate far and wide. I have no doubt the Scottish Government, and governments in other countries, will sit up and take notice.”
Zero Waste Scotland carried out a study of DRS in 2015, with the Scottish Government currently considering introducing the scheme.
The Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee has also established a sub group to investigate the issue of DRS in Scotland.
A Coca-Cola spokesperson said: “We’ve made significant progress to improve the sustainability of our packaging in recent years. For instance, all our bottles and cans are 100 per cent recyclable. We’ve also reduced the amount of material we use, making our packs as light as possible and we are committed to increasing the amount of recycled and renewable material in our plastic bottles from 25 per cent to 40 per cent by 2020.
“We believe that we can go further. That’s why we have embarked on a major review of our sustainable packaging strategy to understand what role we can play in unlocking the full potential of a circular economy in Great Britain.
"Since the start of the year, we have been consulting with expert organisations, NGOs and policymakers. We are focused on our packaging, the role of our brands and the ways we can collaborate with others to improve recycling rates and reduce litter.
“Our sustainable packaging review is ongoing, but it’s already clear from our conversations with experts that the time is right to trial new interventions such as a well-designed deposit scheme for drinks containers, starting in Scotland where conversations are underway.”
Coca-Cola said 63 per cent of consumers support the introduction of a deposits system in the UK, and 51 per cent say they would be more likely to recycle as a result.
The spokesperson said: “From our experience elsewhere in Europe, we know that deposit schemes can work if they are developed as part of an overall strategy on the circular economy, in collaboration with all industry stakeholders. We will support any well-thought-through initiative that has the potential to increase recycling and reduce litter.
“We expect to publish the results of our review and sustainable packaging strategy in the summer and remain fully committed to finding new ways to minimise the materials we use; reduce waste; and work with all stakeholders to improve recycling rates across Great Britain.”