Why has the bottle deposit return scheme been delayed for ten months?

The First Minister said the ten-month delay to the controversial scheme will allow 'businesses to get ready'.

Why has Scotland’s bottle deposit return scheme been delayed for ten months? Animaflora via iStock

Scotland’s deposit return scheme (DRS) has been delayed until March 2024 in order for “businesses to get ready”, Humza Yousaf said on Tuesday.

The First Minister told MSPs he remained committed to the scheme and blamed the ten-month delay on the UK Government for not agreeing to a UK Internal Market (UKIM) Act exemption for the scheme.

The DRS would have been the first of its kind in the UK but businesses in Scotland have expressed concerns over its rollout.

Industry figures argue it would impose potentially fatal costs on their business and create a trade barrier between England and Scotland, but environmental campaigners say it will cut carbon emissions and reduce litter.

Yousaf said: “We recognise the uncertainty that continues to be created as a result of the UK Government delaying the decision to exclude the scheme from the Internal Market Act. We had hoped for that decision this week – but it has not come.

“At the same time, I – and the circular economy minister – have heard the concerns of business, particularly about the scheme’s readiness for launch this August.

“As a result, we will now delay the launch of the scheme to March 1, 2024. This provides ten months for businesses to get ready.

“We will use that additional time to work with businesses, and Circularity Scotland, to address concerns with the scheme and ensure a successful launch next year.

“We have also developed a package of measures to simplify and de-risk the scheme, and to support small businesses and hospitality in particular.”

Business groups – including CBI Scotland, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Scotland and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) wrote to Yousaf this week to raise concerns about the scheme.

In the letter to the First Minister, they said that with just 13 weeks remaining until DRS goes live, “the challenge facing businesses is stark”.

They warned Yousaf: “Time is running out. We urge you to commit to review and delay DRS until a workable scheme has been agreed by all facets of industry.”

It has also been signed by the leaders of the Scottish Wholesale Association, the Scottish Tourism Alliance, the Wine and Spirits Trade Association, the Scotch Whisky Association, the Society of Independent Brewers and UK Hospitality, highlighting the depths of concern that exist about DRS.

But not everyone was happy with the ten-month delay announced on Tuesday.

Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: “We are disappointed by the Scottish Government’s decision to delay further.

“Our members have committed to the introduction of deposit return schemes and have spent several years and millions of pounds on its planned launch in Scotland. 

“We’ve also worked closely with the scheme administrator (Circularity Scotland Ltd) to ensure we can meet the unique implementation challenges set out in legislation in time for the go-live date of August 16 2023. 

“Further delay now leaves the Scottish scheme in a precarious position and we will be looking to the Scottish Government to protect the considerable industry investment to date.”

‘Planet sized stupidity’

The Scottish Greens have accused the UK government of “planet sized stupidity” for refusing to grant the proposed DRS an exclusion to the Internal Market Act. 

Mark Ruskell, the party’s environment spokesperson, said: “The Tories are holding Scotland and an entire generation of people hostage with made up rules in the middle of a climate crisis. 

“Scottish secretary Alister Jack’s utterly brazen attempts to undermine the work of the Scottish Parliament – and in Fergus Ewing’s case his own government – has nothing to do with protecting the environment and everything to do with defending corporate profits.

“They have deliberately conspired to undermine business confidence and showed contempt for the Scottish Parliament, environmental charities and thumbed their nose at every nation who came to Glasgow seeking leadership at COP26.”

‘Huge relief to businesses’

Scottish Conservative MSP Maurice Golden said: “This delay will come as a huge relief to businesses and consumers across the country.

“They will be glad the decision has been taken out of (Scottish Greens co-leader) Lorna Slater’s hands and that they have some kind of stay of execution.

“But how the SNP-Green government uses this next nine months is absolutely key.

“Most people agree a well-thought out DRS, which brings businesses and customers along with it, would work well for the environment and the economy.

“Ministers urgently need to get back to the drawing board and come up with something that is radically better than what has been proposed so far.

“Their first port of call should be inviting Scottish business leaders to advise how best to move forward.”

What does the scheme involve?

The scheme was due to go live for consumers on August 16, 2023.

A 20p deposit would be added to all single-use drinks containers made of PET plastic, metal or glass. It applies to both alcoholic and soft drinks.

Consumers would then get their money back by returning the container to retailers and hospitality premises that sell such single-use products to take away.

Retailers will accept items over the counter, while larger stores, shopping centres and community hubs will operate automated receiving points known as reverse vending machines (RVMs).

Who is overseeing the scheme?

Circularity Scotland Ltd have been approved as the scheme administrator.

But – similar to other deposit return schemes around the world – it will be for individual producers and retailers to meet their responsibilities. One option open to producers is to appoint the scheme administrator to discharge their obligations on their behalf. 

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