Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) delayed until 2024

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Scotland has delayed their Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) until 2024. Source: Terri Lee-Shield Photography/Getty Images
Scotland has delayed their Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) until 2024. Source: Terri Lee-Shield Photography/Getty Images

Related tags Recycling Scotland Trade Sustainability

Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) has been delayed. The scheme, which had been due to start in August, will not now begin until 1 March 2024. The delay is proving controversial, with many campaign groups speaking out against it. However, some drinks manufacturers had feared that the scheme itself would impact on business, adding extra costs to their operations in a time when costs are already high.

A deposit return scheme (DRS) is a scheme in which, when people buy single-use drinks containers such as cans and bottles, they are charged a small deposit, which is then given back to them when they recycle.

According to the proposed DSR in Scotland, this would mean 20p (€0.22) being added to the price of drinks containers made out of glass, metal or PET plastic. Many of the containers in question will be able to be returned over the counter. However, larger shops, shopping centres, and community retailers will manage reverse vending machines (RVMs), which will provide vouchers with which to pay for shopping.  

Private drinks manufacturers are responsible for the scheme, but a private non-profit organisation called Circularity Scotland has been set up to help administer it.

Manufacturers are charged 20p per bottle, which goes back onto their products as the deposit. They will also pay a small administration fee (2p for plastic or aluminium bottles, 4p for glass) but will receive a handling fee from Circularity Scotland of roughly the same price for their role in collection. The administrator will reimburse retailers for the money they pay back to customers taking part in the scheme.

The scheme has been delayed because the Scottish government was unsure whether the UK government would allow it to be exempt from the Internal Market Act 2020, which restricts regulations from discriminating against goods and services based on location within the UK. With the DRS raising prices in Scotland, it would need to be exempt from the act to go ahead.

The reaction to the delay of the DRS has been varied, with some people saying that the delay would be too high a cost for the environment, and others expressing relief that some of its flaws, such as the high cost imposed on businesses, would, in theory, have time to be ironed out.

A blow for the environment

Many environmental campaigners worry that the delay will significantly increase the levels of recyclable rubbish being put into landfills, in turn releasing many tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that could have been avoided had the scheme been kept to its scheduled date of August 2023.

This is the third delay of Scotland's deposit return scheme​,” Sarah Doherty of Have You Got the Bottle, a campaign run by the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, told FoodNavigator.

Critics of the delay say that it costs the environment dearly. Source: WALTER ZERLA/Getty Images

Now the scheme will have been delayed almost by three years from its original start date of April 2021. In this time, an estimated 2.5 billion drinks containers being littered, landfilled, or incinerated, and almost 500,000 tonnes of avoidable CO2 emissions will have been released.

Deposit return is a producer responsibility scheme, where the costs of waste are transferred back to those producing it. Because of this delay, this responsibility will fall on taxpayers, local councils, and the environment for longer​.”

Doherty believes that it will be highly successful once it is rolled out. “Deposit return is in place in almost 50 countries and jurisdictions worldwide and has been shown to dramatically increase recycling and decrease litter.

Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme aims to capture an estimated 1.5bn drinks containers each year for recycling, or 90% of all containers included in the scheme. It will also hugely increase the quality of recycled material, ensuring that cans are turned back into cans and bottles are turned back into bottles​.”

A ‘sensible delay’

However, many have welcomed the delay. This correlates with the controversial nature of the scheme itself. Many businesses worry that it adds to their operating costs in a time when costs are abnormally high as it is.

For example, companies are being encouraged to add a special Scottish barcode to their products or face a surcharge of 1p per product. Plus, a flat £365 registration fee will be charged to any company taking part in the scheme. Smaller businesses argue that this will affect them disproportionately.

Plus, there’s the issue of legality. The agreement risks creating a trade barrier between Scotland and other three parts of the UK, whose own schemes aren’t scheduled until 2025.

The scheme has been delayed because of uncertainty whether it will be exempt from the Internal Market Act 2020. Source: Stephen Barnes/Getty Images

Andrew McCaffery, Chief Strategy Officer of environmental compliance data specialist Ecoveritas, called the decision ‘a sensible delay.’

"The costs were escalating and clearly, the full cost of implementation had not been assessed.

“Costs were always going to be passed down to consumers. We'll never know the answer to whether politicians ever had a real appetite to commit to doing this during a cost-of-living crisis, and with elections not too far down the road​.”

He praised the opportunity for a rethink. “This seven-month delay must be used to re-establish its purpose. And there must now be significant involvement from all affected business areas, many of whom have been put through lots of undue stress and anxiety​.”

Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, also expressed relief at the delay. “Today’s decision to delay the introduction of Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme is an overdue acknowledgement that the scheme is far from ready,” ​he said.

There is a lot of work to be done before DRS can start. The scheme needs significant amendment to achieve an improvement in the quality of glass recycling rates and only then can any start date can be considered realistic.

The scheme's success will rely on the Scottish Government undertaking a full review of DRS, with industry's views being considered meaningfully - because it is the industry on which government is reliant for meeting the costs of collection and recycling, and for delivering an effective scheme​.”

Public opinion

Polling done by Ipsos Scotland, between 17-21 March, has revealed that the Scottish public is in support of the scheme. Around 49% of people said that they supported the scheme compared to 31% who opposed it.

Furthermore, 51% said they would use it frequently once it is implemented, compared to 31% who would use it occasionally or not at all.

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