A return scheme for plastic bottles could soon allow British consumers to enjoy a drink of juice or water without adding to a sea of pollution – as well as getting some of their money back.
The idea of a deposit return scheme (DRS) for bottles has won the backing of two supermarkets, Iceland and the Co-op, the first major retailers to support the policy to promote recycling and tackle ocean plastic pollution.
"Introducing a DRS may well add to our costs of doing business. However, we believe it is a small price to pay for the long term sustainability of this planet," said Richard Walker, director for sustainability at Iceland Foods, in a statement.
"I urge all other retailers to do the right thing and follow suit."
A deposit return scheme involves consumers paying a small deposit that is refunded when they return empty plastic bottles and is common in many parts of the world including Denmark, Germany and Australia.
From fishing lines to flip flops, there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the world's oceans, according to a 2014 study.
As concern grows about vast floating fields of plastic debris, environmental groups are lobbying the government and retailers to take action to catch up with other countries on cutting plastic littering and marine pollution.
"We hope that other supermarkets will see the way the wind is blowing on this issue … and follow Iceland and the Co-op in recognising that our oceans should not be our rubbish bin," said Tisha Brown of Greenpeace UK.
In London, consumers expressed support for a bottle deposit scheme.
Such a move would follow Britain's decision in 2015 to charge 5 pence for plastic carrier bags, legislation that slashed usage and has taken about 9 billion plastic bags out of circulation.
Britain recycled just over half of the bottles that were sold in 2016, well behind the rates achieved in Denmark and South Australia where deposit return schemes boosted rates to as high as 90 percent.
France has banned plastic shopping bags, adding disposable plastic cups and plates from 2020 while Kenya will soon bring in a ban on household and commercial plastic packaging after a successful grassroots social media campaign.
Scotland has already committed to introducing a deposit return scheme.
And finance minister Philip Hammond said the government will look into ways to reduce plastic waste through the tax system and charges on single-use plastic items during his budget speech to parliament in November.
"It is a ticking time bomb for humanity, since we all ultimately depend on a healthy ocean environment for our own survival," said a scientist.