Scotland Introduces 20p Deposit on All Cans and Bottles

CC BY 2.0. Pubs are about the only places where bottles are exempt from deposits/ Lloyd Alter

Every country everywhere should be doing this.

Every bottle and can purchased in Scotland will soon require a 20p (about 25 cents US) deposit, whether you buy it at a big grocery or a corner store or even online. According to Zero Waste Scotland, besides fighting litter and waste, it will help fight climate change:

Scotland’s deposit return scheme will reduce the harmful emissions that contribute to climate change by reducing the amount of plastic, steel, aluminium and glass that goes to landfill or incineration. Recycling is a more energy efficient than making new aluminium, glass or plastic. Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme will contribute to the fight against climate change by reducing emissions by around 4 million tonnes of CO2eq (carbon dioxide equivalent) over 25 years.
They also use some of our favourite words:
Deposit return is a type of extended producer responsibility. Producers will be partly responsible for the costs of the scheme...This model is tried and tested across much of Europe, including Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Germany.

The Scottish environment secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, is quoted in the Guardian:

"There is a global climate emergency and people across Scotland have been calling, rightly, for more ambition to tackle it and safeguard our planet for future generations." She said international evidence showed “a well-run, appropriately targeted scheme could improve the environment, change attitudes to recycling and litter, and support a more circular economy.”

This is so true. When the province of Ontario, Canada, introduced its 25 cent deposit on wine bottles (there already was a 10 cent deposit on beer bottles and cans) they all disappeared from the streets instantly as a bottle collecting industry started among the homeless and others, and the streets were instantly cleaner. The beer bottle recovery and refilling system is a model of a true circular economy.

One also has to remember why recycling was invented in the first place by the people who made and filled bottles back in the seventies, which was to avoid "bottle bills" that put deposits on everything. They didn't want bottles back, they wanted a convenient and profitable linear system where they had no responsibility and the purchaser picked up the tab. They were afraid of this.

The corner stores are furious, claiming they would lose shelf space to handle the returns and it would cost them money to handle the deposits. The head of the Federation of Small Businesses complains:

“We’re unhappy that the Scottish government hasn’t taken on board our concerns, despite a commitment to address the problems such a scheme poses for small retailers. Ministers need to explain to those that run the smallest shops how this scheme will work for them.”

But in fact, people who buy single containers from corner stores are often the worse offenders when it comes to leaving them on the street, and in some ways, the corner stores might well be the beneficiaries as people spend those deposits. Finn Arne Jørgensen, author of Making a Green Machine, describes what happens in Norway in the Atlantic:

About 95 percent of all beverage containers with a deposit sold in Norway -- glass, plastic, and aluminum -- are currently returned for recycling. Hungover students return bottles after yesterday's party on Saturday morning. Kids collect and return bottles to get extra pocket money for candy. Families drop off their bottles in the reverse vending machine on their way into the grocery store. Even one of Norway's richest men has publicly stated that he recycles his empty bottles -- not because of the environment, but because it's about money.
bottles waiting for return

Six bucks worth of bottles, waiting to be returned/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

People adapt. My late mother, who generated a lot of wine bottles, gave them to the doorman in her apartment building, who bought lottery tickets with the deposits with the promise to split any winnings; they did very well. My son, who doesn't drive, would carefully put the bottles out on the sidewalk as a way of helping someone needier than him. In our neighbourhood there are squads of old ladies pushing grocery carts, cleaning up every wine and beer bottle and can in sight. I can imagine if the deposits extended to every kind of bottle here, like it will in Scotland; the city would be spotless.

About the only people who really hate deposit systems are the companies and the bottlers; they have been selling convenience and shifting the costs of recycling to the taxpayer. Producer responsibility costs them money. And as for the small retailers complaining, they should look on the bright side; there's money in those bottles.

Tim hortons

A Tim Hortons in Edinburgh (really!) / Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Congratulations to Scotland. For years, we have been calling for deposits on everything; next, they should go after the Tim Hortons and Starbucks coffee cups.