Dave Dalton is Chief Executive at British Glass. This is a sponsored post by British Glass.

Against the backdrop of COP26, the government marches ahead with its ambitious environmental agenda. Reducing waste, reaching net zero carbon emissions and embracing the principles of a circular economy are all crucial pillars in the Government’s ambition to leave our environment in a better state than we found it.

Undeniably a fundamental part of this mission is the turbocharging of our waste collection system. From introducing a new system of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), to ensuring consistent household waste collections, and implementing a new UK-wide deposit return scheme (DRS), we have the chance to reimagine and rebuild UK recycling anew.

However, with this once-in-a-generation opportunity to overhaul the system, it’s critical that we get the detail right. Particularly with regards to the materials scope of the incoming DRS, there is a risk of inadvertently taking a backwards step on the UK’s resource efficiency, should glass be included in the scheme.

It is my firm belief that a DRS is not the right solution for glass in the UK. The evidence tells us as much.

Firstly, the inclusion of glass in a DRS would actually increase the amount of single-use plastic in circulation. When schemes were introduced in Germany, there was a 60 per cent increase in consumption of plastic. In Croatia, since a DRS was introduced, plastic has become the market leader for beverage bottles. Meanwhile in Finland, when PET plastic bottles were introduced into the DRS in 2008, the quantity of single use PET increased from around 50 million units in 2007 to 375 million units in 2017.

A key driver behind this is the upfront cost to consumers, for example, having to choose between a 20p deposit for a three-litre plastic bottle versus paying £1.20 for six 500ml glass bottles at a time when household budgets are tight.

Secondly, including glass in a DRS risks increasing, not decreasing, emissions. Making new glass from recycled glass by remelting it reduces CO₂ emissions and energy use, saving 580kg of emissions with each tonne of glass remelted. Yet there are currently no plans to include a remelt target for glass collected through a DRS. This effectively means more glass is likely to be ‘recycled’ as aggregate, which would undeniably harm circular economy principles and increase industry emissions.

Meanwhile, there is also a risk that the reverse vending machines used in a DRS could excessively compact glass to a point where it cannot be used for remelting back into new bottles and jars, requiring more virgin material to be used.

Furthermore, it will lead to an increase in associated vehicle emissions – glass food packaging will still have to be collected at the kerbside, while new collection vehicles will be required for glass bottles in a DRS which also requires people to take their bottles back to the shops, increasing consumer journeys.

Thirdly, it splits glass packaging recycling into two waste streams – to the detriment of both. Glass jars, condiment bottles and other glass packaging would still remain part of future collections, representing circa 30 per cent of all glass packaging. But by splitting the total volume of glass captured across two systems, it is less financially viable for councils to continue collecting glass food packaging, threatening the overall recycling rate for glass.

In fact, we have already seen this in Scotland where, after the Scottish Government decided to plough on with plans for a DRS including glass despite industry warnings, we have already seen Dumfries and Galloway Council say it will no longer be collecting glass as part of household collections.

But there is another way. We already have a system in place at our doorsteps which can significantly increase glass recycling. Proposals around Extended Producer Responsibility will build on the success of current household and bottle bank recycling schemes, working in tandem with proposals to ensure the consistency of recycling collections across local authorities and to improve communications.

We’ve already seen the success of this approach elsewhere in the world; a DRS for plastic runs alongside EPR for glass in both Norway and Sweden, and each have recycling rates of 89.4 per cent and 92.8 per cent respectively.

We want to see more glass bottles recycled, and that is why we have set out our ambition for a 90 per cent glass collected for recycling rate by 2030, and to achieve Net Zero for our industry by 2050. But in order to achieve this, glass must be recycled right.