Environmental groups have accused retailers of trying to ignore calls for a catch-all deposit of more than 15p on plastic drinks containers.
The deposit scheme is currently being discussed by ministers who are trying to decide which bottle sizes would be included in the plans. Environmentalists say both large and small plastic drinks containers should feature a deposit of more than 15p, however retailers say only small bottles should feature the deposit as most large bottles are recycled at home.
A UK proposal, put forward as part of the Resources and Waste Strategy is likely to copy another scheme adopted in Europe. Currently Norway charges shoppers a deposit of the equivalent of between 10p and 25p depending on the size of the bottle.
The Norwegian consumer puts the use bottle into a machine which produces a coupon to be exchange for a return of the deposit. As a result Norway has a 97% recycling rate compared to the UK, where just over half of bottles are recycled.
Samantha Harding from the Campaign to Protect Rural England said retailers had tried to block a similar scheme back in 1981. Greenpeace also expressed doubt over a potential scheme saying that if the government introduced a “half-baked scheme” limited to smaller bottles, it would only confuse customers.
She said: “But look at the mess we’re in now, consumption has rocketed while recycling has flatlined. Our countryside, rivers and oceans are choked with plastic, and many drinks containers are collected so inefficiently their poor quality means we struggle to recycle them within the UK, and the rest of the world no longer wants them.”
Libby Peake of think tank, Green Alliance, added: “Introducing a deposit on all containers would improve the flow of materials into the recycling stream – that’ll be a major plus. There are people in the industry who are trying to water down the scheme to restrict it to on-the-go containers – and if they succeed that will definitely make it less efficient.”
The British Retail Consortium said it felt that the best way to deal with the issue would be to focus on cans and bottles used outside the home, rather than big bottles which it said usually went into home recycling bins.
Andrew Opie, of the BRC, said: “We all want to see a world with no plastic pollution and high levels of recycling. But at a time when many shops are being lost from our high streets, the Resources and Waste Strategy presents business with an additional £3bn bill.”