The decision to introduce a deposit-return scheme for aluminium and steel cans and plastic and glass bottles is welcome and long overdue.
It has always been a scandal that we have thrown away vast quantities of a valuable material like aluminium in particular. And it will be an even greater scandal if we fail to take such steps to reduce the amount of waste plastic getting into the natural world, given we have belatedly realised just how much damage it is causing.
While Scotland is set to become the first part of the UK to introduce the scheme, similar ones have been operating around the world for some time. And indeed many people will remember the days when there was a deposit on glass bottles in the UK. So there is no reason why we cannot make deposits work now and a number of reasons why we should do so.
Announcing the Scottish Government’s intention to put legislation before MSPs, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham rightly cited the “global climate emergency” as one reason.
But waste in any form is an inefficiency and there are economic benefits to be made from recycling valuable and useful materials. It has even been suggested recently that rubbish dumps could be mined for some of the materials they contain, so wasteful have we been.
There is a general acceptance by the public of the need to recycle and a financial incentive – coupled with better facilities – will make a difference. It really should be a ‘win-win’ for all concerned and the sooner it is introduced, the better.
However, the one potential problem is the requirement for retailers to return deposits to shoppers and deal with the used cans and bottles. The Scottish Retail Consortium warned the inclusion of glass in the scheme would be “an enormous burden”, particularly for small shops. High street retailers have been having a tough time of late and should not be made to pay a price for this scheme. Indeed it could be an opportunity to help them. After all, if they are providing a service, could they not be given some form of payment for that? Reverse vending machines are used effectively in places like Germany and could simplify the process considerably.
Huge structural changes to our economy are underway as part of what is being called a new industrial revolution. The trick will be to manage these changes so the process goes as smoothly as possible.