Consumers could face paying a deposit on drinks bottles and cans which is repaid when they hand them in for recycling, under Government plans to tackle plastic waste.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove confirmed ministers would introduce a deposit return scheme for single use drinks containers such as plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans in England, subject to consultation.
The move aims to boost recycling rates and cut litter, and comes amid increasing concern over the issue of single use plastic waste, much of which ends up as rubbish polluting the countryside and oceans.
UK consumers use an estimated 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year, but more than three billion are incinerated, sent to landfill or end up as litter in towns, the countryside and the seas, officials said.
Some countries already have deposit return schemes which charge an upfront deposit on drinks containers, ranging from 8p in Sweden to 22p in Germany, that is redeemed when the empty bottle or can is returned.
The consultation will look at how such a scheme could work in England, alongside other measures to increase recycling rates, which have stalled in recent years.
Options for a scheme could include providing cash rewards for returning bottles and cans without an upfront deposit, through “reverse vending machines” where consumers insert the container and get coins in return.
Mr Gove said: “We can be in no doubt that plastic is wreaking havoc on our marine environment – killing dolphins, choking turtles and degrading our most precious habitats.
“It is absolutely vital we act now to tackle this threat and curb the millions of plastic bottles a day that go unrecycled.
“We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use, and now we want to take action on plastic bottles to help clean up our oceans.”
The Government said it would only take forward options from the consultation which demonstrate they offer clear benefits, are resistant to fraud, and where the costs to businesses, consumers and the taxpayer are “proportionate”.
And officials said they wanted to talk to the devolved administrations about the scope for working together on the issue.
A poll for waste and recycling company Suez found that 74% of people would be likely to return their plastic drinks bottles or cans if they had to pay a 10p deposit, which they could then reclaim when they returned them for recycling.
Suez has called for a deposit return scheme which only targets plastic bottles and aluminium cans that are smaller than 700ml, such as soft drinks cans and bottles of water bought to be drunk on the go.
Responding to the announcement by Mr Gove, the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s (CPRE) litter programme director Samantha Harding described it as a “brilliant and significant decision”.
“I am thrilled that we will finally see the many benefits a deposit scheme will bring to England, not least the absence of ugly drinks containers in our beautiful countryside.”
And author Bill Bryson, a former president of CPRE, said: “Future generations will look back on this decision as a piece of supremely enlightened policymaking, and one that raises the prospect of the world’s most beautiful country becoming free from drinks container litter at last.”
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Elena Polisano, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said it was “positive” the Government’s proposals included plastic and glass bottles and metal.
“If the system is UK-wide, applicable to drinks containers of all sizes and available everywhere they are sold, it will make a huge difference to the plastic problem.
“The Government must also be careful to avoid a voluntary scheme that only applies to some retailers.
“Both the public and businesses are in favour of a strong deposit return scheme, which is a tried and tested way to increase recycling rates,” she said.