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Some years ago we were told that the introduction of thicker plastic bags would help to solve the problem of plastic waste.

Most people realised, at the time, that this would not work, and the plan has failed more dismally than even the most pessimistic of us predicted. Only the manufacturers of the thicker plastic bags and the shop owners, who overcharge for them, have benefited.

Yet one solution to the problem plastics pose to the environment can also play a role in redistributing income. Every single disposable plastic item should incur a deposit. This would require only a minor adjustment by manufacturers. Depots can be set up at shopping centres to receive returned items in exchange for shopping vouchers.


The deposits received by shop owners can be collected by the municipal council in much the same way as value-added tax is collected by the revenue service, and claimed back by submitting the used shopping vouchers. At the depots, specially trained people can immediately separate out the items according to their kind, as required by recycling firms. People who, at present, move around suburbs sorting through litter bins could perhaps be the first ones eligible for such employment – they already have the requisite knowledge of what plastic items can be collected together.


Money paid by the recycling companies for sorted refuse would contribute to the salaries and other costs associated with maintaining the depots. It would cost local councils much less to subsidize this system than it does for them to dispose of plastic litter as they do at present. Another role municipal councils could play would be to transport collected items from these depots to recycling firms, although most such firms would probably be willing to collect the waste themselves. The council would then also receive payments from recycling firms, and use them to pay salaries and other costs.

In the area where I live, the body corporate bought expensive separate containers from a recycling company. The scheme did not work because the company concerned expected us to know how to distinguish between the different kinds of plastics, not all of which are conveniently labelled. The same applies to glass and paper. Workers at the depots could quickly be trained to make those distinctions.


With very few of us currently sorting our garbage, it’s obvious that attempting to educate the public will be a waste of resources. It makes more sense to turn the problem into an opportunity that will help alleviate poverty, clean our environment and save the energy and resources that recycling enables. Such deposits would immediately increase the price of goods in our shops, but citizens could get the extra money back by simply returning the plastic items to their nearest depots. If any are too rich or lazy to do so, someone else will do it for them, and benefit financially from doing so. It would be simpler, of course, for our supermarkets to set up their own internal collection depots. It may look like a very complicated system, but with the requisite computer programming, it could be administered quite simply.