Independent Scottish brewers and retailers fear the planned Deposit Return Scheme could cause major problems for smaller businesses. 

The scheme, which is being introduced nationwide by the Scottish government, is expected to be up and running by 2021 and will see aluminium and steel cans, as well as plastic and glass bottles collected and recycled.

Shoppers will be expected to pay an extra 20p on the cost price of drinks sold in these packages, which will be refunded when they are brought back for recycling.

It’s being hailed as a success by environmental groups, with it being suggested by some that it could divert around 140,000 empty cans and bottles from litter to recycling every day.

Brewers and retailers said that they agreed with the scheme in principle but worry current plans are unworkable. Picture: Shutterstock

However, the lack of clarity on how the scheme will affect small businesses such as craft brewers and drinks retailers is leaving many feeling fearful.

With some smaller firms that rely on selling cans and bottles warning that the cost and complexity of the new scheme could make it uneconomical for them, and could potentially make them unable to sell cans in Scotland.

• READ MORE: Scotland’s deposit-return system: how it will work

Speaking with the Scottish Grocer, Dave Lannigan of Ride Brewing, a small independent brewery based in Glasgow, said that Zero Waste Scotland and the government were not listening to their concerns, and warned at one meeting with the group that there was a “good chance” this is going to end his businesses.

To which they replied that it was “not going to be that bad”.

Dave said: “The funny thing is, my canning line was fully funded by Zero Waste Scotland. My cans are now going to have to go to England and I’ll go back to just keg and cask in Scotland.”

Fellow independent brewers Jo Stewart, co-founder of Edinburgh-based Stewart Brewing, and Loch Lomond Brewery owner Fiona MacEachern added in the SG article that, much like Dave, they agree with what the scheme is trying to achieve but that there seemed to be a “fundamental misunderstanding” from Zero Waste Scotland on how badly the plans could affect the drinks industry.

The problem they say is two fold, with those behind the scheme not taking into account several major issues smaller producers have, while also trying to rush it through without consideration for these same smaller businesses.

Niall Kennedy of the Wee Beer Shop in Glasgow, said that it’s not just brewers that will be affected but also smaller retailers – particularly when it comes to the equipment that will be involved.

He said:  “I, and most small independent retailers I have spoken to, are in favour of a deposit return scheme and improving recycling rates, with the Wee Beer Shop an early supporter of the concept of a Scottish scheme.

“However, the proposals that I have seen don’t take into account issues that small shops may have to face.”

Stating that he’d welcome some truly meaningful engagement with small retailers, Niall added that one of the major issues facing smaller retailers is cost.

He said: “There’s a proposal that shops need to purchase and install expensive equipment to process returns – something my business has no physical space to host. I’d like to see local authorities and public spaces being part of the return scheme.

The independent retailer added that the proposals will make it difficult for breweries to “make interesting beer”, which are often produced in small volumes and that English independent breweries may also find it a struggle with some suggesting they may simply stop “supplying beer north of the border”.

• READ MORE: Green groups and businesses clash over Scottish bottle deposit return scheme

Speaking about these concerns from the drinks industry, Zero Waste Scotland pointed out that the Implementation Advisory Group for SDRS included representatives of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, Federation of Small Businesses, National Federation of Retail Newsagents and Scottish Grocers Federation.

The group added that the drinks containers can be collected manually or through a reverse vending machine (RVM), with ‘Manual return’ seeing collection of containers in plastic bags or similar, which will then be collected by the scheme administrators.

It will be up to individual retailers to decide whether they wish to install a reverse vending machine or accept returns manually.

In attempt to further address these concerns, Jill Farrell, chief operating officer, Zero Waste Scotland, said: “We recognise that small producers and retailers are a Scottish economic success story and are important stakeholders. Accordingly, we have representatives from a number of relevant bodies that contribute to our Implementation Advisory Group.

“It is understood that elements of the scheme will mean changes and will require the co-ordinated efforts of industry. Representatives of the brewing industry, that includes small brewers and retailers, are part of key working groups, have been invited to 1-1 meetings and been contacted directly as part of our ongoing engagement programme, in addition to last week’s dedicated event.

“Having invited the Society of Independent Brewers board to discuss matters affecting their membership in further detail last week, we will also host a follow-up meeting to explore the points they would like to discuss further.

“We estimate that more than 90 per cent of single-use drinks containers on the market could be recovered, which is well above current collection rates and a necessity to help meet challenging environmental targets.

“By working together we can all reap the environmental benefits of a world class Deposit Return Scheme for Scotland.”

Earlier this year, we reported that addition of glass bottles to the DRS had caused widespread concern among some of the bigger retailers.

The Scottish Retail Consortium said the addition of glass bottles would add an additional £50m per year to operating costs, while the Scottish Beer & Pub Association said the move was “deeply disappointing”.

Head of Policy with the SRC, Ewan MacDonald-Russell said at the time: “We are concerned the disappointing design unveiled by ministers may make that unachievable.

“The inclusion of glass will add an additional £50 million per annum to the cost of running a DRS; a cost that will end up being paid by consumers. Glass is a difficult, bulky, and heavy material to manage and will be an enormous burden, especially for those operating from smaller stores.”

About The Author

Sean Murphy

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.

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