Moves to pay people for recycling drinks containers will be delayed to 2024, the Government said as it consults on “continued appetite” for the scheme post-Covid.
A “deposit return scheme”, which would charge customers a levy on drinks bottles and cans that is paid back when they bring them to return points hosted by retailers for recycling, has been planned since 2018.
In 2019, the Government pledged to bring in the scheme, to reduce litter and boost recycling, in 2023.
But it has now said the introduction of a deposit return scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would be in late 2024 at the earliest, to provide time to implement the policy in the most effective way.
And it has announced a second consultation on the scheme in the wake of the pandemic, which it said offered a chance to “explore what the continued appetite is for a deposit return scheme in a ‘post-Covid’ context”.
The Government said it remained committed to delivering on its commitments to introduce a deposit return scheme.
But it also said it recognised the pandemic “has disrupted the economy and society in unimaginable ways, with many people reassessing their values, decisions and priorities in both the immediate and longer term”.
Environmental campaigners say a deposit return scheme is popular with the public, pointing to the success of the carrier bag charge, and called for an “all-in” programme which covers all plastic and glass drinks bottles and drinks cans.
Camilla Zerr, plastics campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Tougher action on waste and plastic pollution must be part of Boris Johnson’s pledge to build back better.
“There is huge public appetite for a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis.
“Ministers must stop the dither and delay and fast-track efforts to build the cleaner, safer future we so urgently need.”
Sam Chetan-Welsh, political campaigner at Greenpeace, said Covid-19 had changed many things in people’s lives but not “the fact that our oceans, rivers and landscapes are getting more polluted by throwaway plastic and glass bottles and cans every day”.
“We cannot let the pandemic become an excuse for even more inaction on single-use packaging, from a Government that’s already made a habit of it.
“The Netherlands and Germany have been making their existing deposit return systems even stronger during Covid. With billions of drinks containers being wasted in the UK every year, what’s our excuse for falling so far behind?”
A second consultation is also being held on making manufacturers pay the full costs of managing and recycling their packaging waste, with higher fees for packaging that is harder to reuse or recycle.
Ministers said powers in the Environment Bill, which has been delayed until later in the year, could be used to make manufacturers more responsible for the packaging they produce and incentivise consumers to recycle more.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Through our world-leading Environment Bill, we are transforming the way we deal with waste.”
He said the new changes would ensure more of what people consume is recycled and reused.
Mr Eustice said: “They will stimulate the creation of alternatives to single-use plastics and establish consistent rules to help people recycle more easily across the country.”
A separate deposit return scheme for drinks containers is already under development in Scotland.