Although 2024 is barely a few weeks old, it is clear that it will be an important year for elections, with the UK and the USA set to go to the polls late in the year, most likely in November and even Russia is holding elections apparently? In Brussels, June will mark the beginning of another 5-year electoral cycle and in Washington and Brussels there seems to be a current flurry of activity as policymakers scramble to deliver agreed packages of reforms before election fever fully takes hold. In stark contrast the tumbleweed blows through Westminster, as our government continues to look inward not outward, and the policy vacuum continues. There’s a saying that ‘in space no one hears you scream’, but currently the vacuum in Westminster means that no one can hear the screams of the resource sector for policy advancement. And I wonder whether we are in danger of losing our deposit…..

Of course, policy development and implementation are not simple or often quick processes and stable government is a prerequisite for both. You only need look to our near neighbours to see what can be achieved with commitment,  focus and organisation. For example, in November 2022 the Irish Government set out its commitment to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme to begin in February 2024 for the near 2 billion plastic bottles and aluminium cans placed on the market every year. As we enter February 2024, the scheme is indeed up and running on time and as planned. Something of a contrast to the on/off story that has dogged Deposit Return Scheme discussions in the UK since 2018.

It will be interesting to observe the introduction of this, the nearest Deposit Return Scheme to UK shores, to see the consumer and retail reactions as well of course as the knock-on impacts (if any) on the remaining household waste and recycling collections. The Irish Scheme excludes glass bottles but has a variable fee according to container size; 15 Euro cent for containers up to 500ml and 25 Euro cent for those above, capped at 3000ml (3 Litres). However, the Irish resource management system is very different to those in the UK, as it is provided directly by a paid for range of private companies. The charges applied to consumers by these waste management companies are a matter for those companies and their customers, subject to compliance with all applicable environmental and other relevant legislation and can use a system which includes a weight based or per lift charge. A basic ‘Pay As You Throw’ policy – something else that many have called for within the United Kingdom.

So, it seems likely that the Irish consumer is already well used to minimising residual waste for financial reasons and is perhaps already attuned to the financial ‘reward’ concept of a Deposit system, where money already committed at point of purchase is returned for compliant recycling behaviour. It will be interesting to see how this turns out and if lessons can be learned for the UK should this policy ever make it to fruition here. So, an important year for elections as we look forward to new government and new opportunities. And when all is said and done, with other elections ongoing in 2024, with already foregone conclusions, maybe the pace and rhythm of true democracy is a price worth paying.