Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme delayed

Delayed: Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme put back until October 2025 – reaction

The launch of Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) will be delayed until at least October 2025, the Scottish government announced on Wednesday 7 June.

Circular economy minister, Lorna Slater, told Scottish Parliament the delay was due to the UK government’s refusal to agree a full exclusion from the Internal Market Act. And the decision came a week after Whitehall imposed a number of what the Scottish government described as “highly significant conditions” on the scheme.

Those conditions included the removal of glass and the requirement to align aspects of the scheme with a DRS across the UK, although there are as yet no regulations in place for a programme in the UK.

Scotland’s DRS was being administered by Circularity Scotland and due to come into play in March 2024, with a deposit of 20p set to be placed on drinks bottles and cans. The idea was this additional cost would be paid back when the packaging was returned via reverse vending machines (RVM) or manually in stores and at other drop-off points in local communities.

Businesses have opposed Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme, particularly smaller firms which said the deadline was too soon for them to prepare accordingly. Larger organisations trading in Scotland and the wider UK had also said that the scheme not being lined up across the union would cause logistical problems.

“It will come later than need be. It will be more limited than it should be. More limited than parliament voted for”

Addressing parliament yesterday, Slater said: “As of today, it is now clear that we have been left with no other option than to delay the launch of Scotland’s DRS, until October 2025 at the earliest based on the UK Government’s current stated aspirations.

“I remain committed to interoperable DRS schemes across the UK provided that we can work in a spirit of collaboration not imposition. I wrote again last night to the UK government, to urge ministers to reset a climate of trust and good faith to galvanise and retain the knowledge that has been built in Circularity Scotland and DRS partners in Scotland.”

She added: “This parliament voted for a Deposit Return Scheme. I am committed to a Deposit Return Scheme. Scotland will have a Deposit Return Scheme. It will come later than need be. It will be more limited than it should be. More limited than parliament voted for.”

For that, she blamed a UK government which she said “has sadly seemed so far more intent on sabotaging this parliament than protecting our environment”.

Green Retail World rounds up some of the early reaction to the news.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, deputy head of the Scottish Retail Consortium

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, deputy head of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “The Scottish retail industry is proud of its commitment to the environment and sustainability, including working towards our 2040 net zero target and working across the supply chain to move towards a circular economy.

“Within that framework Scotland’s retailers have very significantly invested in good faith to deliver a deposit return scheme. That includes years of engagement with government, development of systems and store refits, and a financial commitment which already runs into the tens of millions.

“Lessons must be learned from this sorry DRS saga”

“Today’s announcement has serious implications for that investment, which has been committed at a time where retailers have devoted every other effort to grappling with the cost-of-living crisis. Retailers will need to take time to fully understand the implications of today’s decisions and consider what the most appropriate next steps are.”

He added: “In the short-term retailers are likely to pause any further investment until we have a clear operational plan and a final credible critical path to delivering the scheme.

“Lessons must be learned from this sorry DRS saga. In the longer term this announcement provides an opportunity for the four home nations of the UK to come together to develop a comprehensive delivery plan, focused on consumers, based on delivering a coherent, comprehensive, clear, and cost-effective deposit return scheme which can increase recycling and move to a more circular economy.  Hitherto the scheme has been bedevilled by a rush to unachievable dates and a failure to take on board businesses reasonable and practical suggestions; there is an urgent need to move beyond that and deliver this as a project without the politics.”

“This regrettable episode should be seen as an opportunity to think anew about how the four home nation governments work together”

MacDonald-Russell continued: “More broadly, in the days and weeks ahead this regrettable episode should be seen as an opportunity to think anew about how the four home nation governments work together when they have similar public policy goals or objectives in certain areas. This is particularly so with so many environmental and public health regulatory initiatives under consideration across the UK. That’s not to question where powers reside. However, perhaps a key lesson to learn from deposit return is it’s to the benefit of consumers and those firms tasked with implementing public policy when the four home nation administrations engage collegiately and work together to introduce aligned regulatory measures in a sensible and cost-effective manner, one which minimises complexity and helps retailers keep down prices for customers.”

Barry Fisher, CEO of Keep Scotland Beautiful

Barry Fisher, CEO of Keep Scotland Beautiful, said: “The climate, nature and litter emergencies need committed action now.

“A well-designed DRS can play a crucial part in tackling litter and waste and creating a more circular economy. We’ve consistently called for an all-in DRS to maximise environmental benefits and provide value for money – because a scheme that accepts the same material types makes it easy for people to understand and use, and clearer for businesses to support the implementation.”

He added: “It is really disheartening that despite a Scotland wide proposal gaining cross-party support in 2019 we still have no operational scheme. It is particularly frustrating when we know there are successful deposit return systems operational in other countries and we fail to understand why the UK/Scotland implementation is taking so long and is proving so difficult to implement.”

Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) CEO James Lowman

ACS CEO James Lowman remarked: “It has become increasingly clear that a workable DRS system, interoperable with future schemes in the rest of the UK, cannot be put in place by March 2024.

“This is disappointing, but it is the right decision to work towards the launch of interoperable schemes across the UK in October 2025. It is absolutely essential that the governments of the UK work together to introduce a scheme that works for everyone, is effective at increasing recycling rates, and does not impose unnecessary conditions on the retailers that will be delivering the scheme on the ground.”

Biffa CEO Michael Topham

The day before Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme was delayed, the CEO of waste management company Biffa, the official logistics partner for the scheme, wrote a letter to Scotland’s first minister Humza Yousaf, arguing against delaying the plans.

Michael Topham claimed Biffa had already invested £65 million into the scheme in the form of property, vehicles, and counting equipment.

“Whilst the position of the UK government is no doubt unwelcome for all those committed to delivering the scheme for Scotland in the form originally intended, I strongly believe that the best course of action at this stage is to proceed without further delay,” he wrote.

“Any decision to cancel or significantly delay the scheme beyond March 2024 sends a seismic and detrimental signal to all those businesses that are in principle willing to commit resources into helping the Scottish government deliver on its ambitions, completely undermining its position as a legislator that can be relied upon.”

The future…

The UK government said on 20 January that small cash deposits placed on single-use drinks containers will be arriving in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland in 2025. Under those plans, retailers who sell drinks covered by the scheme would likely host a return point, probably through a network of RVMs, but there are as yet no firm plans of what the programme entails.

The coming months will dictate if Scotland and the rest of the home nations can align their plans to make this a UK-wide initiative. The debate is set to rumble on.

[Image credit: Green Retail World]

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