We have a useful acronym at Iceland: JFDI. It means Just … Do It.
We invoke it when colleagues start putting trifling concerns in the way of accomplishing something really useful. If we didn’t, the business would grind to a halt as we endlessly debated every single possible objection to any course of action. Sure, we sometimes make mistakes, and if we do we acknowledge them and put things right. But at least we get things done.
The DRS – acronym for a Deposit Return Scheme – seems to be one of those really good ideas that is in danger of getting nowhere as politicians agonise about the pros and cons. We were the first retailer – along with the Co-op – to come out in support of Greenpeace’s call for a Government-imposed UK bottle DRS last November. We did so because we have clear evidence that such schemes work.
In Norway, their DRS scheme has led to 96% of all plastic bottles being recycled, compared with 57% in the UK. This means that we are sending around three billion plastic bottles a year for incineration, and a further 2.5 billion to landfill. Not to mention the countless thousands we can see littering every beach and roadside in the country.
Nor is there anything special about the Norwegian experience. Every state that has introduced a DRS achieves similar results. So what are we waiting for?
The UK Government initially made positive noises about looking into the benefits of a DRS scheme, and the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee recommended introducing one. But when DEFRA replied to the Committee last week they said, in a classic bit of officialise, that “We will need to consider how a Deposit Return Scheme or other behavioural incentives would fit with other planned work, such as wider reform of the packaging waste producer responsibility regime and the call for evidence on the potential for taxes or charges for single-use plastics, in order to avoid producers or consumers being charged multiple times for the same products.”
In other and simpler words, we can’t commit to a DRS until we have had a long think about imposing a single-use plastic tax instead.
This is not an either/or choice. We can introduce a DRS, which we know will deliver a massive increase in plastic bottle recycling rates, and consider a tax to drive down overall use of single-use plastic as well.
We have made it clear that we are very happy to host Reverse Vending Machines to help with trials of a DRS, and it is becoming equally clear that no one in Government actually has the will, let alone a plan, to get such a scheme off the ground.
Sometimes we all need to take a stand and do the right thing, as Iceland did when we announced that we would seek to eliminate single-use packaging from our own brand range completely by 2023. We did that in the knowledge that the public was behind us, and polling shows similarly strong support for a DRS: a YouGov poll for the Marine Conservation Society last year showed 73% of the British public in favour of a DRS.
So come on, Mr Gove. This is both urgent and popular. We need, as Churchill liked to minute, “Action This Day”. Don’t get bogged down in discussions, or let some theoretical best be the enemy of a proven good.
For the sake of the planet, JFDI.