A Deposit Return Scheme is coming and we should not fear it.

Dr Ian Humphreys is the Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful

An ambitious new initiative has come into force in the Republic of Ireland on February 1st that should be welcomed by all who work to change behaviours that can improve our environment for the better. The Deposit Return Scheme will see a 15 cent levy added to every aluminium can and plastic bottle sold in the Republic of Ireland. Customers can keep their empty cans and bottles for return to get the deposit they have paid refunded.

Whilst this scheme is new to this island, it is not new to Europe. Many countries on the continent have had similar schemes up and running for many years and Northern Ireland should not shy away from having a similar scheme and here is why.

A Deposit Return Scheme will help us increase recycling rates that have started to flat line across Northern Ireland. Recycling is one of the many tools we have at our disposal to mitigate the damage that the misuse of single-use plastics can have on our environment. As local councils reach the limit of getting the general public to recycle through their household waste, a Deposit Return Scheme will help take more of the public along the way towards more sustainable uses and re-engage people with the concept of recycling.

Then we have the bigger picture of building a circular economy which a Deposit Return Scheme is critical towards achieving. This scheme encourages customers and businesses to keep these materials in consistent use rather than simply use them once and disregard them for general waste. Moreover, the DRS will ensure a sustainable and continuous use of packaging which is beneficial for building the circular economy that we need for the future.

Another important benefit of a DRS is reducing litter and moving people towards a reuse mindset. Currently, in Northern Ireland, we are spending more than £30 million per year dealing with the cost of littering. This places an intolerable burden on our local councils, diverting money from public services toward dealing with irresponsible behaviour. Whilst not eliminating litter, a DRS does go some way in encouraging responsible disposal of some of our most commonly littered items.

Introducing a DRS will have challenges for some sectors and require a new way of doing things. I do not propose in this piece that it is a silver bullet because it isn’t, rather it should be seen as one of the many important steps that Northern Ireland needs to take to build better behaviours and a more circular economy that can deliver for society.

The Republic of Ireland is moving ahead, Northern Ireland cannot stay behind. It makes no sense to have this policy in place in Dundalk but not in Newry. We should be paying close attention to how this scheme has been introduced with a view to moving forward on a DRS ourselves.

Northern Ireland was behind the curve in putting in place a local Climate Change Act, we cannot be the last to the party in building a circular economy too. A DRS is part of that mix. We should be working now to bring this scheme into being and our devolved institutions should be pressing to make it a reality.

A Deposit Return Scheme is coming and we should not fear it. Rather we should embrace it as a new way of doing things for the benefit of society. The new Executive should look at what is happening in the Republic of Ireland and look for the opportunities ahead.

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