Defra criticised for refusing to reveal cost of DRS consultations


The UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has been criticised for “ignoring” the advice of its own consultation and then “refusing to reveal” how much money was spent on two public consultations on the design of a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS).

Defra agreed that the inclusion of plastic bottles, glass bottles and metal cans was the preferred option as it provided the greatest net social benefit.

The government conducted two consultations in 2019 and 2021, both revealing strong support for the inclusion of plastic bottles, glass bottles and metal cans.

Whitehall promptly ignored this wealth of expert evidence, and has pushed for the exclusion of glass bottles in all four nations of the UK.

Now Defra has refused a request by campaigners to reveal how much taxpayer money has been “wasted” on two consultations after they say the Government failed to take notice of the findings. 

The request was submitted by international campaign group Nature 2030 in relation to the ‘Introduction of a deposit return scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland’ consultation conducted by Defra.

When asked to provide the total financial cost to conduct the whole consultation process and the total hours spent by the employees, the Government failed to provide any figure.

The government stated that Defra “does not account either for staff time or the cost of staff time spent on specific tasks”.

Defra said it has “no knowledge of the information requested” and therefore has not conducted a public interest test in this case.

The group asked to be provided with the total financial cost and total hours spent by Defra employees to conduct the whole consultation process until its publication on 20/01/2023.

The departmental budget for Defra in 2021/22 when the consultation took place was £5.6 billion.

Commenting on the implementation of the DRS, Baroness Natalie Bennett, former leader of the Green Party, said: “Not only is the government ignoring the environmental and social cost of failing to implement its declared aim of “making the polluter pay”, but it is not even keeping track of the cost of its own policies.

“The government’s management of the entire issue has been a shambles. In this, as so much else, we have a government that acts at governing, but fails to deliver any effective action.

“As collectively we bulldoze through the limits of this one fragile planet, the government needs to be held to account for its failures – and questions asked about the role of industry influence in its decision making. A few are profiting while the rest of us pay with collapsing Earth systems.”

The DRS system is now set to be implemented in 2025 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, after a one-year delay and the controversial exclusion of glass. 

A previous Freedom of Information request from Nature 2030 revealed that strong industry and environmental charity support for glass to be included in the UK’s deposit return scheme was roundly ignored by Defra.

The UK Government has also recently blocked the Scotland’s decision to launch a deposit return scheme including glass igniting fury north and south of the border and causing a delay to 2025.

Campaigners believe a DRS that included plastic and glass bottles and drink cans as well as a variable deposit is key to tackling Britain’s waste crisis.

They said a comprehensive scheme capturing as many materials as possible will be easier for consumers to understand and is the most effective model for reducing waste.

A previous poll from Nature 2030 in January found strong support for glass inclusion with some 75 per cent of Britons wanting glass bottles urgently reinstated in the Government’s proposed deposit return scheme in England and Northern Ireland. 

Dominic Dyer, chair of international campaign group Nature 2030, said: “The theme of this Government seems to be ignorance, it’s convenient that DEFRA are unable to reveal the cost of a consultation which they evidentially ignored.

“It’s clear why neither business, campaigners or the public have confidence in the Government to protect our planet and give industry the platform to thrive and innovate when the Government continue to walk blindly into the abyss.”

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