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Scotland Deposit Return Scheme: What is Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme, when does it start, what is included, why is it controversial?

The Deposit Return Scheme(DRS) will launch in Scotland this August, but what is it and why is it so controversial?

Published: February 15, 2023

Later this year Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme will launch - the first in the UK - and with it will come some changes to how we recycle single use drinks containers.

The scheme has made headlines in recent weeks due to its complicated nature, costs involved and potential barriers to trade with the rest of the UK, amongst other things.

What is the Deposit Return Scheme?

Under the DRS scheme, shoppers will pay a 20 pence deposit when they purchase a drink that comes in a single-use container made of plastic, steel, aluminium or glass. They will then be reimbursed when they return empty containers.

Milk cartons, which are made from HDPE – and other non-PET containers - are not included in the scheme and should continue to be recycled via kerbside collection.

When will the Deposit Return Scheme launch?

The scheme is set to launch on the 16 August, though producers need to have signed up to it by the end of February and pay a flat rate £365 registration fee.

Deposit Return Scheme
Most critics don't disagree with the aim of the deposit return scheme for bottles and cans, but it needs to be workable. Picture: George Frey/Getty Images

How will it work?

Customers will pay an extra 20 pence on single use drinks containers and will then need to return these to a reserve vending machine, found in shops and supermarkets, to get the money back or a voucher, which can be redeemed in shops or else exchanged for cash.

If you order drinks in single use containers online, there will be a take back service. Exact details of how this will work are yet to be revealed.

Who runs the scheme?

Under the scheme, any business which produces or imports drinks for sale in Scotland that are sold in the designated single use containers must register directly with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), the scheme's regulator, or a private non-profit company, Circularity Scotland, that has been set up to administer the DRS on their behalf.

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All drinks producers will have a legal duty to comply with the regulations, and it will be an offence to sell a drink in a scheme container in Scotland if the producer of that drink is not registered with SEPA.

What changes will we see?

Some of the main changes we'll see are: the price of drinks in single use containers going up, a potential reduction or stoppage in kerbside collection, reverse vending machines in shop car parks and retail stores, new barcodes on applicable containers and a potential reduction in choice of drinks in Scotland.

Find out more about the changes we might see here.

Why is the Deposit Return Scheme so controversial?

Drinks producers and business owners have spoken out about their concerns regarding the scheme in recent weeks and months.

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The scheme has come under widespread criticism as critics fear it will cause price hikes and reduce consumer choice, with some producers outside Scotland already ceasing imports.

There has also been widespread critism over lack of information, consultation and costs invovled.

Producers have pointed out that the separate barcodes on drinks being sold in Scotland causes extra costs and will involved more storage space.

Small craft producers have pointed out that the flat fee and costs associated with the scheme will disproportionately impact them.

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There's also the complaint that businesses have been given a deadline to sign up to a legally-binding agreement, which some say could threaten the future of their business, but if they don't do this, they may not be able to sell their drinks in Scotland.

Trade groups, and some producers outside Scotland, have stated that the scheme will result in fewer products being sold in Scotland due to its complexities, and how it may stifle creativity.

What have the Scottish Government said?

Circular economy minister Lorna Slater has stood firm and said that that scheme would "absolutely" go ahead in August, adding it was “all systems go” despite warnings from producers that a “huge number” of smaller drinks firms could stop selling their products in Scotland.

Environment spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, Mark Ruskell, said the scheme was “vital” to cutting waste and said opponents were simply concerned about “party politics”.

He has also spoke out against cross party concern, said: “It is deeply regrettable to see this group of MSPs spreading misinformation and panic about a scheme that our Parliament has already voted for and that is based on successful schemes that have been implemented around the world.

“You expect this level of relentless negativity, half-truths and distortion from the Tories, but to see MSPs from other parties joining them is disappointing to say the least.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said of the scheme: “We must take bold and ambitious action to tackle the climate emergency. Scotland’s deposit return scheme will be a major part of our efforts to reduce littering, cut emissions, and build a more circular economy when it goes live on 16 August this year. Similar schemes are common in other European countries and have been shown to be very effective.

“The Scottish Government has committed to a pragmatic approach to implementation and to make the scheme more efficient and reduce costs. Ministers and officials regularly meet with industry and will continue to do so as we work together to deliver this scheme."

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.

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