Competition fears ‘will force small stores to take back empty plastic bottles’

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Competition fears ‘will force small stores to take back empty plastic bottles’

David Shrimpton

Small stores will end up taking back empty drinks containers if a deposit return scheme (DRS) is introduced in the UK – even if they are not legally required to do so, experts believe.

Saulius Galadauskas, who chairs the DRS system in Lithuania that came into force in February 2016, said the smallest stores in his country (under 1,100sq ft) were exempt from the scheme, but most chose to take part anyway.

“They do it because of competition,” he said. “If their competitor on the other side of the street is taking back containers, then consumers will go there and spend their money there.”

The Lithuanian programme also allows for manual collection of returns in specially designed plastic bags, but Galadauskas said small shops in rural areas would also sometimes join forces to provide a kiosk-type facility that could house one or more ‘reverse vending machines’ for consumers to return their empty bottles.

The scheme provides for a €0.10 deposit on glass, plastic and metal drinks containers of between 100ml and three litres in size. Eligible containers are marked with a special bar code and logo.

More than 90% of PET bottles are now said to be returned through the programme.

Rauno Raal, who previously ran the DRS in neighbouring Estonia and now works as an environmental consultant, said collection services behind such schemes had to be fast in order to cater for small stores, to make sure returned containers were picked up promptly from retailers.

Smaller stores could also make use of new, smaller-footprint reverse vending machines that were about the size of “one or two refrigerators”, he said.

In the Lithuanian scheme, retailers are compensated for collecting containers on the basis of actual operating costs (rather than any potential lost profits).

The level of compensation was determined by an independent adjudicator at the start of the programme, a process that took six months, and is reviewed each

year.

Raal admitted there could be problems with smells created by liquid left in returned containers but said this could be overcome by suitable ventilation and was minimised by excluding milk cartons from the scheme. Bags for manual collections were fitted with special closures to trap odours.

He said consumers in the Baltic States tended to take back their empties two to three times a month on average, returning 50-60 containers at a time.

Galadauskas dismissed suggestions there could be a scheme that applied only to on-the-go containers. “You have to keep it simple for consumers,” he said.

Raal and Galadauskas were in the UK this week meeting with the Campaign to Protect Rural England (which has been lobbying for DRS for 10 years) and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, which launched a consultation on a possible DRS scheme in England in late 2018.

The Scottish government is expected to announce the results of its own consultation soon.

Samantha Harding, litter programme director at the CPRE, said: “Successful deposit systems set up to collect all types of cans and bottles can increase recycling rates to more than 90%. Both large and small retailers will host the collection points, which is an opportunity for all of them to increase their footfall.

“An independent convenience retailer in Scotland who recently trialled a deposit return system for six months in his family run-store experienced a 7% increase in footfall and a 20% increase in sales over the period.

“Examples such as these, and from all across the world, demonstrate that opting in to a deposit system can lead to increased spending in store. By opting out of the system, smaller retailers risk handing business over to their competitors.”

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