Independent retailers have backed government proposals to introduce a deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks bottles and cans to slash plastic waste.

A deposit return scheme for single use drinks containers (whether plastic, glass or metal) will be introduced in England, subject to consultation later this year.

The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the move was needed to cut pollution from an estimated three billion plastic bottles that are incinerated, sent to landfill or left to pollute streets, countryside and marine environment.

The consultation will look at the details of how such a scheme would work, alongside other measures to increase recycling rates. Defra said it hoped to talk to the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland about the scope for working together on the issue.

Similar schemes already operate in countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Germany. A deposit return scheme sees consumers pay an up-front deposit when they buy a drink, ranging from 8p in Sweden to 22p in Germany, which is redeemed on return of the empty drink container. Possible variants of a deposit return scheme include cash rewards for returning drinks containers without an upfront deposit.

This is often done through a network of ‘reverse vending machines’, where a machine gives out money when a plastic or glass bottle is returned. Once a bottle is returned, businesses are then responsible for making sure they are effectively recycled – a move that has led to a 97% recycling rate in Germany.

Environment secretary Michael Gove said: “We can be in no doubt that plastic is wreaking havoc on our marine environment – killing dolphins, choking turtles and degrading our most precious habitats. It is absolutely vital we act now to tackle this threat and curb the millions of plastic bottles a day that go unrecycled.

“We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use, and now we want to take action on plastic bottles to help clean up our oceans.”

Scottish members of the NFRN (Federation for Independent Retailers) pledged support for a DRS last year and ever since have been working collaboratively with the Scottish government and like-minded organisations to help increase recycling levels in Scotland.

NFRN national president Linda Sood welcomed environment secretary Michael Gove’s plans to introduce a charge on recyclable bottles and drinks containers, which is returned when the empties are returned to reverse vending machines.

She said: “We know that some eyebrows were raised when the NFRN first backed plans for a DRS in Scotland but our members care about the local communities that they serve and want to play a role in protecting the environment and their surroundings.

“But we also want to ensure that any schemes that are developed work in the best interests of our members. We therefore look forward to submitting our response once Mr Gove’s consultation opens and playing an active role in future discussions so the end solution benefits and doesn’t hinder independent retailers.”