One million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. That means that in just over five minutes, enough bottles will have been bought around the world for every person in Scotland to have one.
Once those bottles have been used, most will be chucked into a waste disposal system that just cannot cope. We can and must do better, for the sake of our environment but also for the economic benefits it can bring too.
I was delighted to visit Norway during the summer to see how they are grappling with the problem. Their deposit return scheme for bottles has been in place for a number of years now and is clearly working successfully. Industry appears to be fully bought in, while the impact in terms of improving recycling rates, reducing waste and litter while also driving innovation is very evident.
So as Scotland considers its own deposit return system, it has the benefit of being able to draw on the lessons of others. And not just Norway. There are 37 countries or regions who already have something similar in place and can help Scotland find an approach that best suits our needs and circumstances.
And it’s important we get this right. Public confidence and support will depend on making sure we, as legislators, take proper account of the practicalities of how any system will work in practice. Anticipating, as far as possible, what the impacts will be on consumers, retailers, producers and others likely to be affected by the introduction of DRS in Scotland.
In that context, as the MSP for Orkney, I was particularly interested to see how the Norwegian system worked in smaller, rural or island communities. There has been understandable concern that small, rural shops may struggle to deal with managing the scheme, given the low numbers of bottles they are likely to be taking in and the logistical challenge of getting these to the main recycling centres. Yet, Norway’s experience is that the needs of such shops and communities can be accommodated, often giving rise to opportunities for social enterprises to take on roles that allow them to earn much-needed revenues.
Making a direct comparison between rural communities in Norway and Scotland would be a mistake. Nevertheless, there is enough evidence from Norway to suggest that by being creative, solutions can be found to the specific circumstances facing rural and island communities in Scotland. It also suggests that, once again, a one size fits all approach is unlikely to be appropriate or successful.
Ultimately, however, those living in rural and island communities are every bit as concerned about tackling this issue as their counterparts in urban areas. We take great pride in our reputation for living in a relatively pristine environment and it is a reputation we have every intention of seeking to protect. Hopefully, a sensitively and successfully implemented deposit return scheme can help us achieve that goal.
by Liam McArthur