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"The Bottle Bill is recognised as the single most effective law in our State’s history at diminishing litter…and in encouraging recycling"
G. Oliver Koppell, New York City Councilman, 2002

What is a Bottle Bill?

A "Bottle Bill" is shorthand for container deposit legislation that makes it mandatory for every aluminium can and plastic drinks bottle to carry a refundable deposit. There is substantial evidence that Container deposit legislation is the single most effective way of reducing litter and improving re-cycling rates.

Why we need a UK Bottle Bill

It's a question of value

Litter like this (see right) gets dumped on roads and lanes because empty cans and bottles have no value and some people find them just too inconvenient to keep in their cars until they reach a bin. Equally, because these 15 cans and bottles have no value there is no incentive for anyone pick them up.

If there was a 10p deposit on each of them they would be worth £1.50. Not a huge amount, but enough to make people think twice before dumping them and a sufficient incentive for someone to pick them up.

Small deposits are proven to be efffective in changing peoples littering behaviour. Cans and plastic bottles amount to 60-70% of rural litter by volume, so a Bottle Bill would have a significant impact on the cleanliness of our countryside.

How it works

Here's how it works:

Bill Bryson on Bottle Bills

"...we should introduce a redeemable deposit on every drink container sold. Deposit laws not only encourage recycling and and discourage random discarding but also give litter a value, which makes it attractive as a revenue source..."
"Britain: one big rubbish tip", The Times April 12, 2008

The top four reasons for introducing a bottle bill

1. Bottle Bills reduce litter

Container deposit legislation dramatically reduces littering. The table below shows the results from before and after studies conducted by a number of US states that have implemented bottle bills.

State Reduction in drinks litter (%) Reduction in total litter (%)
Iowa 77 38
Maine 89-77 35-56
Michigan 80 38
New York 70-80 30
Oregon 83 35

Container deposits are neutral for consumers who recycle, penalise people who litter and provide an incentive for people to pick up litter. They are one of the few ways of achieving a sustained change in littering behaviour, particularly for rural and roadside litter, where fines have zero impact.

Why we need a UK 
Bottle Bill - 2 sacks of rubbish To understand the impact container deposit legislation would have, it's best if you get your hands dirty and look at some real litter.

I collected this pile (four sacks worth) from less than half a mile of the B4070 near Birdlip, as it runs through one of the prettiest beech and bluebell woods in Gloucestershire.

Why we need a UK
This shot shows why it is appropriate to focus on drinks litter. I sorted the litter into two piles: cans and bottles on the right, all 256 of them, and everything else (carrier bags, fast-food packaging, cigarette packets, hub caps, crisp packets, dirty nappies(!) etc.) on the left.
Incidently, looking at this, you may be suprised to hear that, according to a "Factsheet" published by Incpen (the packaging industry trade association), "Packaging is actually a relatively small component of litter".

Why we need a UK
If the 70% reduction in drinks litter experienced in the US Bottle Bill states were to be replicated here, the large pile on the right is the litter reduction we would see (179 units). The small pile in the middle (77 units) is what we would be left with.

"Keep Wales Tidy has examined the issues surrounding can and bottle litter, and has reached the conclusion that the best means of addressing this problem while conferring minimal cost on the taxpayers, retailers and government, is to apply deposits to drinks containers."
Keep Wales Tidy Position Paper 2006

2. Bottle bills increase recycling rates

The UK recycles around 48% of its aluminium drinks cans (European Aluminium Association). Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden, all of which operate deposit schemes achieve recycling rates of 85-91%.

For plastic bottles the UK recycling rate is around 25% (source WRAP) - this leaves around 13 billion bottles going to landfill or littering the countryside each year. This compares to recycling rates of 75% or more for the US states and European countries with deposit schemes. In the US, in the states with with deposit-refund schemes, the average number of bottles recycled per person per year in is 490. In the states without deposit schemes the figure is 191.

3. Bottle bills are fairer and more responsible

Up to now, drinks manufactures and retailers have escaped almost all responsibility for the costs of the littering and disposal/recycling of their containers. The burden of clearing drinks litter and re-cycling containers is carried by Local Authorities and ultimately the Council Tax payer. In line with the Polluter Pays principle, a deposit-refund scheme would shift this burden to the producers and the consumers responsible for the waste.
The person who drops their coke bottle would be penalised by loosing their deposit and the person who picks it up would be rewarded.

4. Bottle bills are popular

Polling in Oregon four years after the introduction of container deposits found 90% of the population still in favour of the legislation (State of Oregon Dept of Environmental Quality). In 1993, a telephone poll in SW Australia revealed 95% of people in favour of deposits (Environmental Protection Authority). A similar poll showed 89% of Dutch consumers in favour.

Countries that have Bottle Bills

SW Australia

SW Australia has had a Bottle Bill since 2003. The deposit is 5c (about 2p), Consumers can obtain their refunds at the point of sale (1%) or from depots (99%). The scheme achieves returns rate of 74% for plastic bottles (PET) and 86-92% for cans.


In Denmark, p;astic bottles and cans carry a deposit of 1.25DK or around 12p. The legislation has been in place since 2002. From 1982 to 2002, it was illegal to sell drinks in aluminium cans.


Germany introduced it's container deposit legislation, known as Dosenpfand-Regelung 2003. The deposit is 0.25 Euro on cans and drinks bottles.


The Netherlands has a 0.25 Euro deposit on single use PET bottle. The deposit is reclaimed from reverse vending machines at supermarkets. David Hembrow's website has more information and video clips of how the Dutch system works, as well as a first hand account of how clean the country is.


Sweden has had a 0.5SEK (4p) deposit on cans since 1984. The deposit on single use plastic bottles is 1SEK(8p). The scheme achieves a return rate of 87% for cans and 83% for plastic bottles.

United States

In the US, 11 states have Bottle Bills; California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont. The deposit on cans and bottles is 5 cents, with exception of Michigan where it is 10 cents.


Some form of container deposit legislation is also in place in Norway, Finland, Israel and a number of Canadian provinces.

Another 74 reasons why we need a UK Bottle Bill

These 74 bottles and cans were picked up from a 1/4 mile length of verge on one carriageway of the A417 near Cheltenham.

Why we need a UK Bottle Bill
Copyright © Tim Barnes 2008