Drinks container crisis: global annual consumption nears 2 trillion

9th May 2019

International ‘Clean Planet’ coalition calls for world-wide deposit return systems for drinks containers

In an international day of action for a ‘Clean Planet’, a global network of campaigners and organisations have come together to call for world-wide deposit return systems to stop the environmental damage caused by the vast amounts of drinks containers produced, sold and thrown away every day.

At 9.00am local time on the 9 May 2019 in each country, over a 24-hour period, the network of groups from 22 countries across five continents [1] will release a series of aerial photographs and videos of messages written on hillsides, beaches and buildings calling for a ‘Clean Planet’.

The global stunt is aimed at raising awareness of the environmental impact of drinks packaging, with an international call for action for governments across the world to extend, update or introduce a deposit return system in each country respectively, as the best solution to drinks container pollution [2].

In a joint statement the Clean Planet campaigners, said: ‘The scale of the pollution problem requires immediate global action. Now is the time for every government around the world to stand up and take action against the environmental devastation caused by drinks cans, bottles and cartons – we cannot wait any longer for a clean planet.

‘Through effective deposit return systems that collect and accept every single type of drinks container, introduced right across the world, we have a chance to stop choking our planet with the trillions of bottles, cans and cartons that are produced every single year.’

The case for deposit return systems

When introduced, effective deposit return systems simultaneously boost recycling rates for drinks containers to more than 90%, reduce the environmental damage they cause by stopping them from being littered and make producers of these products responsible for the cost of the waste that they create.

In the process, more recycled content is used to create drinks containers and more refillable containers are used as part of a circular economy, which in turn creates jobs, reduces waste and slows down the depletion of natural resources.

In 2015, it was it was estimated that 1.6 trillion drinks containers were sold across the world [3]. Using growth projections based on the increase in the numbers drinks container sold from 2014 to 2015, global sales of aluminium cans, glass and plastic bottles, as well as drinks cartons, pouches, sachets, look set to reach 1.9 trillion in 2019 [4].

Yet ineffective waste collection and recycling systems across the world mean that a large number of these single-use products are left polluting the environment, and many that are collected as waste are either sent for incineration or buried in landfill, rather than recycled.

Samantha Harding, litter programme director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said:

‘We stand united with campaigners from all across the globe, calling for world-wide deposit return systems to tackle the environmental crisis caused by drinks containers.

‘With global sales approaching 2 trillion, it is clear that the consumption of drinks cans, bottles and cartons has reached epidemic proportions. Without immediate action, our countryside and environment will continue to pay the price for the careless actions of those producing these products.

‘As the UK government edges closer to a decision on the type of deposit return system that will be introduced here in England, it is imperative that the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, ensures that we get the best possible system.

‘Only by introducing an “all-in” deposit return system – that includes every single drinks can, bottle and carton of all sizes and materials – are we going to effectively tackle the crisis and bring about the clean planet that we so desperately need.’

Last year, the UK government committed to introduce a deposit return system in England [5]. It is currently consulting on two design options for what the system will include and how it will operate [6].

CPRE is calling for a fully comprehensive ‘all-in’ system, including all drinks containers of all sizes and materials, to make sure that England gets the most effective and economically viable deposit system in the world.

Notes :

1.The global network of ‘Clean Planet’ campaigners are demanding change through the introduction of a deposit return system in those countries that do not yet have one, and extending deposit systems in countries that already have one to make them more effective by including all cans, bottles and cartons.

2. Photographs and videos of the global CLEAN PLANET messages will be available at 9.00am local time in each country taking place throughout the day on Thursday, 9 May 2019 in this Dropbox folder: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/6u3ijkzc7zy6lr3/AAD-8Sucs9-fCOISqlHcRG9qa?dl=0

3. What is a ‘deposit return system’? A deposit return system is the most effective recycling system, delivering much higher levels of recyclable waste collection, as well as increasing the quantity of low contamination, high quality materials collected for recycling.

How does it work? When you buy a drink, you pay a small deposit (10-20p) and then when you return the container to one of the many return points, you get your deposit back. Thanks to the monetary incentive, such schemes already in operation throughout the world achieve unrivalled return rates of between 70-98.5%, with an associated reduction in other container litter of up to 80%.

Who pays for it? Set up costs for the system are paid by the producers of drinks container packaging via a one-off fee, often known as a ‘joining fee’. The ongoing costs for the system are funded by:

  • Unclaimed deposits
  • Material revenues, received from the sale of glass, aluminium and plastic collected via the deposit return system
  • Producer fees, which make up the balance between income from material revenues and unclaimed deposits against the costs of collection, transport, processing, administration and handling fees – ie. the administration fee guarantees the deposit system is ‘cost neutral’ overall.

In short, the system follows the ‘polluter pays’ principle, ensuring that the cost of dealing with drinks containers is met by those who produce them and those who litter them. There is a net-zero cost to retailers, and consumers will only be out of pocket if they do not return the can or bottle after consumption.

4. Rexam Annual Report 2015Globally, about 1.6 trillion units of beverage packs were sold in 2015, an increase of 5% in volume versus 2014

5. Based on the 5% increase in volume from 2014 to 2015, set out by Rexam in its 2015 Annual Report, if continued the global sales would increase from 1.6 trillion in 2015 to 1.9 trillion in 2019.

6. Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs: Deposit return scheme in fight against plasticIntroducing a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland