What does a container return scheme mean for litter in the environment? | Sustainable Coastlines

What does a container return scheme mean for litter in the environment?

On 13 March, the government announced its proposal to overhaul current recycling and waste management. It proposes to standardise recycling across Aotearoa, food waste collections for business, and a container return scheme.

Sustainable Coastlines CEO, Josh Borthwick, thinks that the container return scheme is a positive move, but that more can be done to reduce litter in our environment.

“The container deposit scheme has been a long time coming! It’s a huge win in incentivising people to keep plastic, aluminium and glass out of our landfills, and ultimately our moana. It gets us another step closer to a circular economy, where products are produced and reproduced with a view to managing their entire lifecycle, rather than the waste-based economy we find ourselves in today. 

So this is a step in the right direction, but at Sustainable Coastlines we still see recycling as a last resort — we envision a future where single-use is a thing of the past.”

What kind of impact might the government’s proposed container deposit scheme have on the litter that we find on our clean-ups? We crunched some numbers on the Litter Intelligence insights page, and found that 7.68% of litter items our volunteers find on beach surveys relate to the items proposed in the deposit scheme. That percentage comprises more than 20,000 pieces of single-use rubbish related to drinks.

Will a container deposit scheme make this number smaller?

If people are incentivised to put this litter in the right place, we’re hopeful that much less of it will end up in the environment. However, much more needs to be done to move away from single-use items as much as possible, especially plastics. Aotearoa has great opportunities to adopt reuse schemes on a large scale.

Consultations on the container return scheme and the other proposed waste measures are open until 8 May. You can let the Ministry for the Environment know your thoughts at this link.

The stats

Beverage-related items found on Litter Intelligence beach surveys. Learn more at insights.litterintelligence.org

Note: this article was updated on 11 May 2022 to include ‘Glass bottles and jars’ in the statistics. New statistics are correct as of that date.

Plastic bottle caps & lids — 4.05 %
Glass bottles & jars — 1.05 %
Plastic bottles <= 2 L — 0.67 %
Plastic bottle neck rings — 0.56 %
Plastic bottle seals & tabs — 0.51 %
Aluminium drink cans — 0.46 %
Metal Bottle caps, lids & pull tabs — 0.38 %
= 7.68%