The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has protested that proposed recycling regulations could be extremely problematic for its members.

A consultation from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) proposes a network of return points for bottles and cans made up of reverse vending machines and manual return points. They would be hosted by retailers and in other locations.

The impact assessment published alongside the consultation suggests that small convenience stores would be required to take back containers manually because ‘reverse vending machines will not be an economic solution’ for them. ACS has consistently argued that manual returns would cause a number of issues for retailers and would not be a practical solution.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “We welcome the Government’s acknowledgement that reverse vending machines may not be economically or practically viable for small stores, but requiring those stores to take part in a manual return system would be extremely problematic. Issues our members have identified include a lack of space to store returned containers, hygiene problems from handling dirty containers, colleagues having to deal with potentially hundreds of returned containers every day, and the queues and customer disruption this could cause.

“Any plans to introduce a deposit return scheme must abandon the idea of requiring manual returns and focus on a fully funded and strategically located network of reverse vending machines that allow consumers to recycle more without causing unnecessary problems, delays and health hazards in small stores.”

In the consultation, the Government outlines two main options for the scope of products that would be included in a deposit return scheme. The first option is an ‘all in’ approach which covers PET and HDPE plastic bottles, aluminium and steel cans, and glass bottles, with no restriction on the size of containers in scope. The second option specifically targets ‘on the go’ consumption, with the containers limited to 750ml in size and excluding multipack containers.

Lowman added: “The concerns that we have about the practicality of manual returns in small stores would only be amplified if the size of containers was unlimited. Larger containers are typically consumed at home and then recycled through the existing kerbside collection network. We do not believe that there is a need to include them within the scope of a deposit return scheme.”

In addition to the consultation on proposed deposit return schemes, DEFRA has also published consultations on the following areas:

  • introducing a consistent set of recyclable materials for collection in England;
  • extending the responsibility of producers of packaging (which includes retailers) so that they will bear more of the cost of dealing with packaging waste; and
  • introducing a tax on the production and import of plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content.