Northern Ireland weighing up deposit return scheme for plastic bottles

Work is underway to review the feasibility of a deposit return scheme for single-use plastic bottles in Northern Ireland.

Speaking in Stormont on Monday (February 8), newly-appointed Agriculture Minister Gordon Lyons said he planned to launch a public consultation later this year.

“In February 2020, we committed to Northern Ireland’s continued participation in the development of UK-wide proposals to reform the packaging producer responsibility system and the introduction of a deposit return scheme,” he said.

Powers are being taken in the Westminster Environment Bill to provide for a deposit return scheme for Northern Ireland, alongside England and Wales.

“Such a scheme can significantly increase the recycling and recyclability of single-use drinks containers. A deposit return scheme could also result in a substantial reduction in the amount of littering in Northern Ireland.”

Minister Lyons explained that similar schemes in Europe had dramatically increased recycling rates.

“Germany, Norway and the Netherlands, for example, have achieved collection and recycling rates of 98%, 97% and 95% respectively for plastic drinks bottles,” he said.

“The options for the scope of material and size of container, deposit level and model of a DRS will be presented in the forthcoming consultation.”

Milk bottles to be included

Responding to follow-up questions on the matter, Minister Lyons said it was not intended to take forward the scheme on an island-wide basis.

It was suggested milk cartons would also be eligible for the scheme. No further details were given on what rates would be paid.

However, Lyons said the scheme “should be as wide as possible” in order to achieve maximum recycling rates.

He added that the department itself is on course to ban single-use plastics within its buildings by October 2021.

“To meet the commitment in ‘New Decade, New Approach’ to tackle plastic pollution, we will propose further measures to control plastic waste, including legislation on plastic caps and lids, labelling, recycled content and reductions in single-use plastic cups and food containers,” he said.