People around the world are using almost 2tn plastic and glass drinks bottles, cans and cartons each year, according to research.
The findings, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), reveal that global sales of drinks containers are set to reach 1.9tn in 2019 – up from 1.6tn in 2015.
It came as the Scottish government announced plans for a deposit return scheme for glass, plastic and aluminium drinks containers of all sizes on Wednesday. The CPRE welcomed the move, praising the Scottish government for “its leadership and ambition”, and called on other countries to follow suit.
Last year, the UK government committed to introduce a deposit return system in England. It is consulting on what the scheme should include. Samantha Harding, the litter programme director at the CPRE, said the government must reject industry lobbying efforts and implement a robust programme.
“We will be urging environment secretary Michael Gove to build on Scotland’s ambition and go one better, by making sure every drinks carton is also included within England’s deposit system,” she said.
Harding said introducing an all-encompassing deposit system would not only boost recycling rates to close to 100%, but also make the producers of drinks packaging “rightly liable for the cost of every piece of packaging they create”.
“This will encourage them to use more recycled materials, which will reduce waste, slow down the depletion of natural resources and move us one step closer to the circular economy that our planet so desperately needs,” she said.
There is growing concern about humans’ devastating impact on the environment. This week, the world’s leading scientists warned human activity, including runaway consumption, was driving a huge decline in the Earth’s natural life-support systems, threatening civilisation.
Harding said: “With global sales approaching 2tn, it is clear that the consumption of drinks cans, bottles and cartons has reached epidemic proportions. Without immediate action, our countryside and environment will continue to pay the price for the careless actions of those producing these products.”
She added: “We stand united with campaigners from all across the globe, calling for worldwide deposit return systems to tackle the environmental crisis caused by drinks containers.”
The group has called an international day of action on Thursday, with organisations from 25 countries across five continents to release a series of aerial photographs and videos of messages written on hillsides, beaches and buildings calling for a clean planet.
Harding said the stunt was aimed at raising awareness of the environmental impact of drinks packaging and would increase pressure on governments to extend, update or introduce a deposit return system in each country.
In a joint statement, the Clean Planet campaigners said: “The scale of the pollution problem requires immediate global action. Now is the time for every government around the world to stand up and take action against the environmental devastation caused by drinks cans, bottles and cartons – we cannot wait any longer for a clean planet.”
In 2017, a Guardian investigation found 1m plastic bottles were bought around the world every minute, with the number expected to jump by 20% by 2021, creating an environmental crisis some campaigners predict will be as serious as climate change.