Could Norwegian approach to bottle recycling revolutionise British approach?

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The Norwegian approach to recycling plastic bottles could be the key to reducing the number of bottles that end up in a landfill in the UK. At present, fewer than half of all plastic drinks bottles are recycled effectively in this country, but campaigners believe that this number could be almost doubled if we follow the example set by Norway.

In Norway, a small deposit is charged on each drinks bottle and refunded when the empty bottle is returned. A charge of 1 Norwegian Kroner is applied to each standard 500ml bottle, the equivalent of about 10 pence in the UK, and a 2.5 Kroner deposit (25p) on larger bottles. This Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) is claimed to be the most effective in the world, with 96% of bottles being returned for plastic recycling.

For several decades in the UK, as in Norway, deposits were charged on glass bottles, but when glass was largely replaced by plastic, the deposits were discontinued in the UK. In Norway, they continued to be used and shops selling bottled drinks are obliged to collect the empties. Shopkeepers receive a small handling fee for this service and in some supermarkets and larger shops reverse vending machines are installed. These work by scanning the barcodes of returned bottles and giving consumers shopping vouchers or making a charitable donation in return for the bottles.

Norway’s plastic recycling scheme is partially funded by the unclaimed deposits on bottles that are not returned and drinks manufacturers make up the remainder.

According to Recycling Now, in Britain, 35.8 million bottles are consumed each day, with 16 million of these failing to reach plastic waste recycling plants. In Norway, the recycling scheme has been extremely effective. This is demonstrated by the fact that out of all the plastic bottles being washed up on Norway’s shores, six out of seven are foreign. Many of these originate from the UK.

Soft drinks bottles and water bottles are often made from PET, which is quite high-value plastic. If empty bottles are kept separate from other recyclables, the plastic can stay uncontaminated and suitable for use by companies manufacturing new bottles. This is advantageous to the environment since plastic made from oil uses a large amount of energy, and currently, 8% of oil production each year is used in this way. As long as the plastic is not contaminated, it can be reused time after time.

Campaigners from Zero Waste Scotland claim that a Deposit Return Scheme could improve recycling rates to over 85% and generate significant savings on kerbside collections. It would also reduce litter considerably.

Some members of the Scottish Parliament have visited Norway to find out how their scheme works, although there has been some scepticism in Norway about Scotland’s ability to replicate the scheme, with Norway Beer and Soft Drinks Producers chief executive, Petter Nome, claiming that deposits are in the genes in Norway.

Scotland does not have the reverse vending machines and coding these for many thousands of different bottles and cans would be expensive and time-consuming. For a DRS scheme to succeed in the UK, it would need to be built up gradually.

It would also reduce litter considerably. Some members of the Scottish Parliament have visited Norway to find out how their scheme works, although there has been some scepticism in Norway about Scotland’s ability to replicate the scheme, with Norway Beer and Soft Drinks Producers chief executive, Petter Nome, claiming that deposits are in the genes in Norway.

Scotland does not have the reverse vending machines and coding these for many thousands of different bottles and cans would be expensive and time-consuming. For a DRS scheme to succeed in the UK, it would need to be built up gradually.

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