When I first arrived in the south of Germany as a British expat, there were several things about my new residence that immediately set it apart from the UK. The lack of rain, quality of lager and love of dirndls and lederhosen were obvious differences–but it was the county’s policy on bottle recycling that really surprised me.
At first, I couldn’t help but notice I was paying slightly more for my soft drinks in the supermarket–and this wasn’t because of poor exchange rates. Why was Coca-Cola more expensive? And what was the other number on the price tag?
I soon realized this extra bit of cash was for a small deposit on the plastic bottle, known over here as “Pfand”. This is added to the final price of all recyclable containers in Germany and can be claimed back when the empty items are returned to the store or via a dedicated machine. Thanks to this system, it’s reported that an amazing 98% of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and 96% of cans in the country are handed back and recycled to help save the environment. Initiatives like this are also in place across many other European countries and parts of the USA and Canada.
Why the UK must do its bit
With 16 million plastic bottles being thrown away every day back home, I think it’s time for the UK to adopt a similar approach to bottle recycling.
In an infographic published earlier this year, Green Alliance–a charity and independent think tank focused on environmental issues–highlighted the scale of this pollution problem and what we can do to prevent plastic entering the sea and harming marine life.
I asked them about this and why a bottle scheme is desperately needed in the UK. Libby Peake, Senior Policy Adviser at Green Alliance, said:
“People are increasingly alarmed at the scale of marine plastic pollution and the impact it’s having on our environment and food chain. The government has started to act by introducing the 5p plastic carrier bag charge and promising a new ban on microbeads, but we estimate that these actions tackle less than two per cent of the problem. A much bigger chunk–as much as a third–could be captured by implementing a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, which would also provide a source-separated stream of high quality plastics for recycling in the UK. It’s encouraging that such schemes are receiving much more media and political attention and that Defra is considering implementing one as part of its litter strategy for England. We will continue to advocate for meaningful action from the government on this serious problem.”
You can check out Green Alliance’s website here to support their cause and find out even more information.
What else can we do?
To help stop plastic pollution and protect our oceans, you can also sign Greenpeace’s petition to support the creation of a plastic bottle return scheme in the UK.
After talking with Luke Massey, spokesperson for Greenpeace UK, I learnt more about the problem. He stressed the importance of the petition and the benefits of introducing the initiative in the UK:
“It’s clear that the British public wants to see action to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans. But all too often we don’t have much of a choice when it comes to purchasing products which come in single-use plastic. That’s why in addition to calling for corporate action from plastic producing giants like Coca-Cola to reduce their plastic footprint and move towards reusable containers, we’re calling for deposit return schemes across the UK.
Two-thirds of people say they’d welcome charges for single-use plastics–like the plastic bag charge–including for bottles, cups and straws. With a deposit return scheme, not only would you get that money back when you return the container, but the plastic doesn’t end up in the environment and can go back into a cycle of production and recycling. Scotland is already ahead of the curve on this, with almost 80% of people supporting the introduction of a deposit scheme, and the Scottish Government is scoping out exactly what that system would look like. Westminster needs to play catch up, but the new Environment Secretary Michael Gove has already said he’d be in favour of such a system. We need to show the weight of support behind deposit return schemes–and adding your name to our petition is exactly how we do that.”
By signing Greenpeace’s petition you’ll be doing your bit and will receive updates on the charity’s campaigns and learn about others ways you can get involved with their excellent work.
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