Tesco last night became the first major supermarket to throw its weight behind efforts to tackle the scourge of throwaway plastic bottles.
Britain’s biggest grocer broke ranks with other leading retailers to say it would back a deposit and return scheme.
It follows Theresa May‘s landmark pledge to launch a 25-year strategy to eliminate the blight of ‘avoidable’ plastic, including bottles, cups and packaging.
High street trade body the British Retail Consortium has lobbied ministers in an effort to block a deposit and return scheme (DRS). But its position is crumbling in the face of growing public and industry support for the idea.
The Daily Mail has previously revealed how Coca-Cola, the biggest producer of soft drink bottles, is prepared to support DRS after years of opposition.
Theresa May has pledged to launch a 25-year strategy to eliminate the blight of ‘avoidable’ plastic, including bottles, cups and packaging (pictured on a beach in Cork)
Now Tesco has joined Iceland and the Co-op in backing the measure. Marks & Spencer and Waitrose also appear to be coming round to the idea.
Tesco said: ‘We do support developing a cost-effective deposit return system and are currently working with a number of partners to scope a project to explore how this can operate in practice and at scale.
‘We view DRS as only one aspect of the holistic approach that is required to achieve the broader goals of reducing waste and increasing recycling in the UK.’
Tesco says it will also make all packaging fully recyclable or compostable by 2025.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has described the introduction of a DRS for plastic bottles and drinks cans as a ‘great idea’.
He has set up a working group to understand how one would work in England. Support has grown following alarming evidence from the BBC’s Blue Planet II series, which featured the threat posed by plastic pollution to our oceans and sealife.
Mr Gove and Mrs May sidestepped questions about a national deposit and return scheme yesterday. Speaking at the launch of the Government’s environment strategy, the Prime Minister said: ‘On the issue of plastic bottle deposits we are looking at what actually is the best way – is it to recycle more or is it to use a deposit? We want to see the evidence base for what works.’
Tesco last night became the first major supermarket to throw its weight behind efforts to tackle the scourge of throwaway plastic bottles
She added: ‘I’m old enough to remember the days of Corona bottles – it was a glass bottle, not plastic – and we took it back and you got your sixpence at the time.
‘So this is not the first time that schemes such as this have been used here… but I think the important question is, let’s look at the evidence and see what would have the most impact.’
Government sources said a decision on whether to press ahead with a deposit return scheme was ‘in the balance’.
One source said the evidence suggested a national policy would be a ‘net positive’ for the environment, but said there could be more effective ways of tackling pollution caused by bottles.
The Daily Mail has highlighted the waste, litter and blight to the environment caused by plastic. Earlier campaigns led the Government to implement a 5p charge on carrier bags and a ban on the use of microbeads in personal care products. In other countries, such as Norway and Germany, supermarkets have reverse vending machines into which customers put used bottles and cans. These pay out vouchers that can be cashed in at tills.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has described the introduction of a DRS for plastic bottles and drinks cans as a ‘great idea’ (stock image)
Iceland said it was willing to install such machines in support of trials in Britain. Tesco is looking at doing the same.
Supermarkets and food giants have argued that being forced to take greater responsibility for recycling packaging waste would cost them hundreds of millions of pounds. The British Retail Consortium insists there should be improvements in waste collection and recycling rather than schemes such as DRS.
The National Federation of Retail Newsagents, representing 15,000 corner shops, is also part of a growing coalition supporting a scheme. Samantha Harding, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: ‘With retailers such as Tesco, Iceland and the Co-op in support, as well as newsagents across England, it’s obvious that there is now real potential for us to have a world-class deposit return system.’
Louise Edge, of Greenpeace, added: ‘It’s great news that Britain’s biggest retailer has come out firmly in support of deposit return schemes – tried and tested across the developed world and they work, increasing the collection rate for plastic bottles up to 96 per cent.
‘The public support DRS, at least three of our supermarket chains now support DRS, even Coca-Cola support DRS, and the Scottish government have committed to introducing a scheme there.’
… and now May has got ban on cutlery and cups in her sights
By Jason Groves and Claire Ellicott for the Daily Mail
Businesses should ban disposable cups and cutlery in the workplace, Theresa May said yesterday, as she set out plans to eliminate all ‘avoidable’ plastic.
Launching a 25-year environment strategy, the Prime Minister vowed to take action at ‘every stage of the production and consumption of plastic’ to drive down the amount of throwaway junk ending up in landfill sites and oceans.
Mrs May said the Government would lead by example by phasing out single-use plastic from Whitehall offices and canteens. She urged bosses to follow suit, saying: ‘I want to see other large organisations commit to doing the same.’
She also warned supermarkets they ‘need to do much more to cut down on unnecessary plastic packaging’, including the introduction of plastic-free aisles ‘where all the food is sold loose’.
Theresa May (pictured at the London Wetland Centre on Thursday) said businesses should ban disposable cups and cutlery
Speaking at the London Wetland Centre, the PM hailed the Daily Mail’s ‘tireless campaigning’ on the environment, adding: ‘The Daily Mail has done a good job in alerting the public to this issue.’ In a wide-ranging speech, Mrs May also:
÷ Vowed that Brexit ‘will not mean a lowering of environmental standards’;
÷ Confirmed that the 5p plastic bag tax will be extended to all retailers, including corner shops;
÷ Warned that one in ten children never visit parks or the countryside and vowed to end this ‘social injustice’;
÷ Confirmed ministers will launch a consultation for taxes on single-use plastic items such as disposable coffee cups;
÷ Said the Government would ‘support the transition’ to zero-carbon vehicles;
÷ Make it easier for families to recycle everyday items.
The Prime Minister said tackling Britain’s plastic problem would involve ‘everybody playing their part’. She said: ‘Individuals can recycle more and can be more careful about the plastics they are using, businesses can have an impact on the use of plastic in their environment.’
Mrs May also revealed that she and her husband Philip try to ‘do our little bit’ by recycling at home and making their garden more wildlife-friendly.
‘We try and recycle as much as possible,’ she said. ‘And I’m proud of the fact we’ve got a brown owl box, bird boxes and bat boxes up in our garden.’
Mrs May said the Government would lead by example by phasing out single-use plastic from Whitehall offices and canteens
Earlier, Environment Secretary Michael Gove hinted that the Government was open to the idea of a new tax on disposable coffee cups to encourage alternatives. The idea of a 25p ‘latte levy’ was put forward by MPs last week.
Asked about the initiative, Mr Gove said: ‘I think it’s an exciting idea, and it is one we are reflecting on.’
Senior Tories believe the party’s focus on the environment could help attract younger voters.
Ministers have already unveiled plans to crack down on the ivory trade and increase sentences for animal abusers.
At the weekend Mrs May confirmed she had dropped her pledge to give MPs the chance to repeal the ban on foxhunting, which was blamed for hitting the Tories’ election hopes last year.
Bees and trees – PM’s vision of a greener Britain
Water firms, shops, coffee shops and transport links encouraged to offer free refill points
Water firms, shops, coffee shops and transport links encouraged to offer free refill points.
Review into extension of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
Developments to include environmental benefits such as ponds and plant-covered roofs.
Cash diverted to developing nations tackling pollution, including plastic waste in oceans.
No food waste to be dumped in landfill by 2030.
25-year plan includes plastic-free aisles and 5p bag charge at all retailers in England.
NHS to tackle mental health problems through gardening and exercise. Help for children in deprived areas to create green plots in schools.
Reintroduce species such as the white-tailed eagle to England.
A ‘tree tsar’ will be tasked with planting millions of trees and improving woodlands.
Britain will be responsible for making its own environmental laws after we leave the EU.
Reduce the use of neonicotinoids, which are said to harm bees and other pollinators.
Stocks brought back up to sustainable levels after Brexit. Expand marine protected areas.
Mrs May’s former communications chief Katie Perrior said while the PM’s passion for protecting the environment ‘may not be insincere’ it was ‘certainly new’.
Writing in The Times, she said: ‘When I was at No 10, Andrea Leadsom, then the environment secretary, was told to make the plan as boring as possible.’
Tory sources acknowledged the strategy, which was due to be published two years ago, had been beefed up.
But Mrs May dismissed the charge she was a late convert to green issues. She said the Conservatives had always understood that the present generation were ‘trustees charged with protecting and improving what we have inherited from those who went before us’.
Jeremy Corbyn called on the Government to be ‘much, much tougher’ on reducing plastic rubbish, saying the target of slashing waste by 2042 was too distant. The Labour leader said: ‘Twenty-five years is far too long.’
Green groups welcomed the measures but warned more rapid and widespread action was needed.
Greenpeace UK’s executive director John Sauven said the environment needed a ’25-month emergency plan’ more than it needed a 25-year vision.