Deposit Return Schemes and Recycling on the Go is making great progress through sporting events

Written by: Dr Adam Read | Published:
Dr Adam Read, external affairs director at SUEZ

Deposit Return Schemes are still very much flavour of the moment, and given the attention I have been placing on it over the last three months it is forever ‘close to hand’ lurking at the back of my mind even when I am supposed to be concentrating on something else.

This was clearly evident last Friday night whilst freezing my extremities off at a Northampton Saints home fixture (of which I am a season ticket holder) in the Aviva Premiership when the visitors were Newcastle Falcons.

Now it is not often that my mind wanders much from the game, but given the stop-start nature of the match, the constant re-setting of scrums and the almost perpetual intervention of the water-boys or physios you really couldn’t blame me for taking a good look around the ground at just how many people were still consuming alcohol even in these bitter conditions.

DRS front and centre

But what interested me more was the obvious success of the ‘deposit return scheme’ the Saints have been running for several years now for all alcoholic drinks purchased in the ground. Now, I don’t buy drinks at the ground (I’m too cheap and I don’t drink alcohol) and prefer to use a flask with a nice cup of tea, or four, that I can reuse throughout the game, but I can definitely see the benefits of the new approach.

Firstly, there is no glass on site, which is great for many reasons the most obvious being health and safety in what can be a crowded and quite dynamic environment. Secondly, the heavy duty plastic cups are branded with Saints images and scenes, which means for the hard core amongst us we don’t mind paying over the odds for a beer as we keep the cups and take them home for use with our children or when dining al-fresco.

But the primary reason, and the one that I was pondering between faulty line-outs was just how effective it was at keeping the cups in use at the end of each game, thus minimising significantly the amount of thin and low-quality plastic which is the alternative at sporting venues from ending up in the bins, or more likely on the ground.

Financial incentives work

There is no beverage container litter problem at Saints, both in the ground or in the local environs. This is because the £1 deposit on top of a £5 beer, which might seem a little over the odds to the beer drinkers amongst you, really does work in terms of ensuring these containers are reused during the game and are recovered at the end of the game for industrial washing before coming out to play at the next home fixture.

An indication of just how well this works is obvious to any of us that might stay behind after the game to meet the players and get some autographs. Once the stands and food and drink outlets are clear, there is an army of younger supporters going around the ground collecting up any stray cups which they take back to one of the bars to reclaim the £1 per glass, which offers them a healthy uplift on their pocket money.

And that is what I really like about the system, with a captured audience, the 20% price premium (deposit) is sufficiently high to alter behaviours- job done!

This approach is increasingly popular at other sporting stadia, gigs and public events, but not all. I propose that all events like this with a captured audience, and where glass bottles and alcohol can’t be brought on site, should be initiating a similar system and reaping the environmental and budget benefits and the great PR opportunities that come from being a venue that cares about the environment.

But not so for the coffee cups

So, why is it that the coffee sellers at the Saints aren’t doing similar, perhaps with a more durable and black plastic cup that could deal with the hot liquid and could be recycled, reused and repurposed from game to game? I haven’t got to the bottom of this yet, but I will be taking it up with the club when I visit them next, as it is the next logical step to addressing the biggest chunk of beverage consumption on site and thus the most impending waste problem at the stadium.

And the food stalls?

And once we have solved that together, I intend to move on to the concession stalls, selling any number of fast foods and international cuisines. One look at the bins on game night suggests that almost everything in them is the wrapping, films, polystyrene containers and plastic cutlery that goes hand in hand with a good old burger, pie or fish and chips that you eat on the go at the venue. So what could we do here?

Perhaps stop using plastic cutlery and move back to real cutlery if we need it, but charge a premium that you could recover by returning the cutlery after you finish the meal, or better still, rent out the cutlery to only those that need or want it?

We could also look more closely at how much packaging there is and what it is made of, with a view to using more bio-degradable products in the future. I really do think the opportunities are there to do better and at little or no cost to the stadium or the consumer which is ideal.

And what about the high streets?

Once we have worked wonders in the sports stadia and concert venues of the UK, we can then take the lessons learned and move them into the high streets where Friday nights are similar to the experiences down at Franklins Gardens (home to the Northampton Saints).

I am a firm believer that making things simple and continuity of approach are important if you want the public to do their bit when at home, at work or out playing. So a deposit return scheme that works at the Saints could work in other locations, and would help avoid confusion about differing approaches in different places and times, something we know the public are not happy about. Plus, we know Defra are interested.

Time to innovate

Food leftovers, containers, coffee cups and drinks bottles are the consumers unwanted weapons of choice, and we need to be smarter about what can be consumed and how we can easily capture it for recycling and processing.

I think we have the nous to make this happen, and I hope the attention that Defra are now placing on coffee cups, marine plastics, deposit return schemes and quality recycling will provide the spark for innovation, trials and in due course full-scale roll-out to the high street.

But in the meantime I will definitely be back to watch the Saints in the run up to Christmas and I will make sure I not only have my flask of tea, helping to keep me warm and reduce my environmental impact, but that I go and talk to the facilities team about expanding their deposit return scheme to the coffee sellers. Watch this space, times are a changing!

May I also take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and a relaxing new year, what with this being my last blog for Recycling & Waste World in 2017, but if you get out to an event, or sporting venue or shopping centre or two over the holiday season please then check out their recycling on the go services and see what deposit schemes are running or could be running with the right persuasion.

Ho, Ho, Ho.

Each month, Dr Adam Read, External Affairs Director at Suez, discusses the big issues within the sector.

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