Have we got the bottle? The case for deposits on drinks containers

Bottle deposits are in the news. CPRE’s President spoke up for them in last week’s Mail on Sunday; the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland has been running a tremendous campaign for a Scottish deposit scheme, Have you got the bottle?; and the  anniversary of the bag charge has shown that nudging people towards doing the right thing really does work.

Here is my column for September’s Countryman magazine, available in all good newsagents.

I often write quite gloomy columns for the Countryman, so it is good to be able to record an unequivocal success. It is a year since major retailers in England were required to charge 5p for single use plastic carrier bags and in that time six billion fewer bags have been issued. Yes, six billion, an 85% reduction.

This has had a big impact on litter and pollution (plastic bags take hundreds of years to degrade); it has saved wildlife (the RSPCA used to receive 7,000 litter-related calls a year); and it has raised some £29 million for ‘good causes’ (though more of this money should go towards tackling our national litter problem).

The bag charge does not go far enough – for instance, small retailers want to be included in the scheme – but its success is something to celebrate. We should even celebrate Nick Clegg (principally) and David Cameron for pushing it through against considerable opposition from some of their colleagues.

The only downside to having fewer carrier bags is that it makes the other litter more noticeable, principally the countless bottles and cans stuffed in hedges or abandoned in fields after summer picnics.

And here again, there is an easy solution: deposits on drinks containers. A deposit scheme would quickly reduce littering and give people an incentive to pick up any bottles that were littered. Deposit schemes are the norm many other countries. Within the UK, Scotland looks set to lead the way – ‘have you got the bottle?’ asks the campaign led by CPRE’s sister organisation, the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland. I hope England will not be too far behind.

If the Government has the guts to introduce deposits for bottles and cans, people will soon get used to them and welcome the change. No one will pay more for their drinks, provided they return the container. Recycling rates will increase, there will be less need for land fill, and there will be considerably less litter.

Of course, the drinks industry hates bottle deposits (just as it is trying to undermine the proposed sugary drinks tax) and we can expect a fight from some very wealthy corporations. But why would any government resist a change that will be popular and have such clear benefits? That is the question the Break the Bag Habit Coalition asked when we first proposed the bag charge. Looking at its success, most people are asking, ‘what kept us?’

1 Response to “Have we got the bottle? The case for deposits on drinks containers”


  1. 1 Duncan cameron August 10, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    As well as a mandatory deposit on drinks containers (bottles, cans, and cartons, etc), I’d welcome a solution for take-away food containers and wrappers.


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