SNP MSPs are among a cross-party group at Holyrood warning the First Minister that bringing in a deposit return scheme (DRS) as planned in August would be “reckless”.
The group, including former Scottish rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing and veteran SNP MSP Christine Grahame, has written to Nicola Sturgeon amid “extensive and wide ranging concerns” about the scheme – which is due to come into effect in just over six months.
The letter, also signed by Conservative MSPs Maurice Golden and Brian Whittle, Labour’s Claire Baker and Paul O’Kane and Liberal Democrat Liam McArthur, comes in the wake of concerns from drinks producers about its impact.
A Scottish Government review published in December “identified that the scheme cannot be made to work as planned in August”, the MSPs said.
Their letter said that given the “number and gravity of the defects identified by both that review and by industry, that it would be reckless for the Scottish Government to proceed with the scheme’s introduction in August this year”.
The group urged Ms Sturgeon to “instruct an urgent and entirely independent review of how best to improve recycling in Scotland” for the three types of material covered by the DRS – PET plastic, glass bottles and metal cans.
Under the current proposals, shoppers will pay a 20p deposit when buying a drink in these containers, with the money then refunded to them when they take the empty cans and bottles back for recycling.
Hundreds of leading figures from businesses in the food, drinks and hospitality sectors have already sent an open letter to circular economy minister Lorna Slater, calling for the initiative to be paused so that changes can be made.
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has also now voiced concerns about the scheme, insisting it is “not too late to think again”, urging the Scottish Government to halt its proposals and instead work with the UK Government to “design a system that works for the whole UK”.
However the rest of the UK is not scheduled to bring in deposit return until October 2025 – more than two years after the August 16 start date for the Scottish scheme.
All firms producing drinks for sale in Scotland in plastic, glass or metal containers between 50ml and three litres in size are “legally required to take part in the scheme”, administrators at Circularity Scotland have confirmed.
Producers have until the end of February to register, but in their letter the seven MSPs note the “extensive and wide ranging concerns expressed about the proposals from the businesses who would require to operate it”.
Appealing directly to the First Minister, they said: “Around 600 small and medium size businesses have expressed profound fears about both the costs and rules (which are far from complete even now), such that many of them may close or face financial pressures leading to closure whilst others will simply cease to operate in the Scottish market.”
They warned Ms Sturgeon that “if the DRS scheme proceeds as proposed, many producers in England, and the rest of UK and foreign drinks brands exporting to Scotland, will cease to sell their products in Scotland”.
The MSPs went on to say they shared the concerns that some businesses – particularly smaller retailers and convenience stores – may have to increase prices by more than the 20p deposit “because the handling fees set do not cover their costs”.
Here they told the First Minister: “The planned DRS scheme will cause price inflation over and above the 20 pence deposit.
“Furthermore, given that the poorest in society, with no access to a car, use these very stores, they are the people who will be hit hardest by these price hikes and at a time we are in the midst of a cost of living crisis.”
The group insisted the aims of the scheme – which is being set up to increase recycling and reduce the amount of cans and bottles dumped as rubbish – are “laudable”.
But the MSPs added that “this scheme, as proposed, cannot and will not realise these aims in practice”.
They went on to raise concerns it may even be “damaging to the environment”, adding that it could result in “possibly millions of extra van or lorry journeys to operate the proposed new collection system”.
Dr Kat Jones, director of APRS, which is running the Have You Got The Bottle? campaign, said however that the letter contained a number of “misunderstandings” about the DRS, insisting that the scheme will be “transformative for communities blighted by litter”.
Dr Jones said: “Most implausibly, the letter claims the 20p deposit is a cost to the public, when that deposit is of course refunded to them in full when they go back to the shops with their empty cans and bottles.”
She added: “The truth is deposit return is a producer responsibility scheme and, as such, puts the costs for our current failing single-use economy back on to the producers.
“It is not right that communities, local councils and the environment should be carrying the can. Of course big drinks producers want us all to keep paying for their waste.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland’s deposit return scheme will go live on August 16 this year and will make producers responsible for recycling the bottles and cans they put on the market.
“Similar schemes are common in other European countries and have been shown to be very effective in improving recycling rates, tackling littering and addressing public concerns about the impact of plastic and other waste on our environment.”
He added: “We understand that this is a big change, especially for smaller businesses, and Scottish Ministers continue to work with affected businesses to address outstanding concerns and ensure the scheme launches successfully.”
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