Inside Track: The cure for litter is a comprehensive approach


The Herald Scotland, 24 March 2016

Everyone agrees that litter and littering is bad, which begs the question of why it continues to be a problem. Any piece of litter spoils the environment, is an eyesore on our beautiful landscape, and can have serious consequences for wildlife, including marine. The solution is for everyone – individuals, industry, campaign groups, and local and central governments - to join forces to prevent all forms of litter.

Targeting only some litter through piecemeal schemes such as deposit and return for drinks containers doesn’t work, and there is no evidence that deposit systems have any impact on littering behaviour. The only substantive study undertaken on deposit return schemes (DRS) across Europe and its impact on litter is a paper by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) in 2008.  It found that in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands there was no evidence to suggest that the existence of a DRS had any effect on the prevalence of litter.

Worse than that, a deposit system would undermine Scotland’s successful recycling record. A DRS would result in a substantial loss of income, estimated at £5.3 million a year, to local authorities from kerbside recycling. Scotland has invested heavily in kerbside recycling. It would be far better to continue to strengthen and build on it, not divert the most valuable materials to a parallel system that would cause expense and inconvenience to consumers; damage existing recycling and anti-littering initiatives; and increase carbon emissions and environmental impact.

A DRS would be a regressive measure that would fall disproportionately on low income, older and disadvantaged consumers. Prices for customers would rise by around 20 pence on a range of bottled and canned items, and the cost of multipack soft drinks would increase by more than 50 per cent.

Inevitably, people living in remote areas, those with limited mobility who may shop by home delivery, and disadvantaged communities where only a minority of households have access to a car, would be less able to return containers, and thus would end up paying more than other people.

A DRS would also damage smaller Scottish businesses and the communities they support. There are over 5,600 convenience retailers across Scotland which provide 44,000 jobs.  They could not afford the expense or the space to buy the reverse vending machines required to handle returns of containers and would therefore risk losing customers.

We should also learn the lessons from other countries.  When Germany introduced a DRS in 2003 its overall recycling rates dropped, and over ten years later have still not fully recovered. Let’s not make the same mistake. A number of countries have considered and rejected DRS, including Ireland.

The cure for litter is a comprehensive approach that includes educating people, provision of infrastructure, and effective law enforcement.  Above all, it must mean continuing to invest in what is working well in Scotland – such as kerbside recycling and the Clean Up Scotland anti-litter campaign– rather than divert effort and resources to a flawed scheme that only tackles a minority of litter.

Industry is fully prepared to play our part, backed with resources and commitment. We live in a beautiful country - let’s make it even better by doing the right thing for Scotland.