Iceland's Walker calls for joined-up UK Deposit Return Scheme

The managing director of frozen food supermarket Iceland has welcomed firmer British government plans for a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), but warned it needs to be joined up across all parts of the UK

Richard Walker said the DRS – which attaches an additional cost on plastic-contained items at the point of sale, but then enables customers to reclaim the fee if they recycle the packaging – has been successful in other countries. But, he added, for it to be successful in the UK, it requires the rest of the nation to keep up with Scotland, which is more advanced with its plans.

Earlier this week, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed it will support the wider roll-out of plastic bottle Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) through its Waste and Resources Strategy. The overall scheme pledges that businesses and manufacturers will pay the full cost of the recycling of their packaging waste.

As part of the strategy, the government has committed to introducing a DRS subject to consultation, which intends to increase the recycling of single-use drinks containers including bottles, cans, and disposable cups filled at the point of sale.

This year has seen several retailers, including Iceland, Morrisons and Tesco, trial their own versions of DRS via the deployment of reverse vending machine retail technology for plastic bottles, in some stores. Co-op Food trialled a scheme of this nature in the pop-up shops it operated at UK music festivals this summer.

“We are delighted to see firmer plans for a DRS, which we have been trialling through the introduction of reverse vending machines in some of our stores; these have received a hugely positive response from our customers,” Walker said in response to the government announcement.

“The DRS system is already proven to work, driving plastic bottle recycling rates as high as 96% in Scandinavia, so it is disappointing that the government feels the need to engage in a lengthy consultation exercise and could delay its introduction until as late as 2023.”

The Scottish government has already embarked on its own consultation process around the introduction of a DRS north of the border, prompting fears of inconsistency between British nations.

“We already know that Scotland is likely to move much faster than this, and it will create huge and avoidable complications for all drinks manufacturers and retailers if a separate scheme becomes embedded there while the rest of the UK lags behind,” Walker added.

Reverse vending machines could become a more regular fixture in UK shops as part of a DRS system. Manufacturers Diebold NixdorfTomra and RVM Systems are among the companies already supplying UK grocery chains with this technology.