The First Minister has branded the UK Government’s ‘demands’ to remove glass from the Deposit Return Scheme a ‘democratic outrage’.
Humza Yousaf blasted ministers after receiving a late-night letter UK environment secretary Therese Coffey, Scottish secretary Alister Jack and minister for intergovernmental relations Michael Gove ordering glass to be removed from the scheme if it is to go ahead.
Regulations passed by Holyrood mean glass bottles, as well as plastic bottles and drinks cans, are currently included in the Scottish Government’s proposed scheme set to come into force in March 2024.
An exemption is needed from the UK Internal Market Act – which was brought in by Westminster to ensure smooth trade between the four nations of the UK in the wake of Brexit.
Yousaf accused Westminster of attempting to “undermine democracy” in Scotland and “ride roughshod” through the plans passed by Scottish parliament in 2020.
He told STV News: “Receiving a letter from the UK Government near 10 O’clock on a Friday night, having briefed the press near enough 12 hours, shows what disrespect it holds the Scottish Parliament in.
“It’s a democratic outrage.
“Our parliament passed regulations that included glass for deposit return scheme.
“The UK Government said they are not giving permission for that scheme and that they are the ones who are calling the shots. That’s not the point of devolution.
“Regulations that included glass were passed by the democratic Scottish parliament and effectively vetoed by the UK Government, who are making their exemption from the Internal Market Act conditional.
“This is a systematic pattern that we see from the UK Government time and time again.
“They’re not just trying to scupper the deposit return scheme, which is clearly what they’re trying to do, they’re trying to undermine devolution.”
The leader said businesses, industry chiefs and Circularity Scotland will be consulted to determine the next steps.
He claimed the legislation would help remove around 600million glass bottles from Scotland’s streets, parks and beaches.
He added: “Broken glass is a hazard to our children and our pets. A DRS that includes glass will help remove litter and increase recycling rates too.
“It’s a win-win, it’s a win for the environment and a win for ensuring less hazards are on our streets.”
All but six of the 51 deposit return schemes operating elsewhere in the world include glass, the Scottish Government said.
On Saturday, a UK Government spokesperson said that the Scottish Government scheme has been granted a UK Internal Market (UKIM) exclusion “on a temporary and limited basis” to ensure the DRS aligns with others planned for the rest of the UK.
Currently, deposit return schemes planned for England and Northern Ireland do not include glass bottles.
The spokesperson said: “The drinks industry has raised concerns about the Scottish Government’s deposit return scheme differing from plans in the rest of the UK, resulting in the Scottish Government reviewing and pausing their scheme earlier this year.
“We have listened to these concerns and that is why we have accepted the Scottish Government’s request for a UK Internal Market (UKIM) exclusion on a temporary and limited basis to ensure the Scottish Government’s scheme aligns with planned schemes for the rest of the UK.”
The spokesperson added: “Deposit return schemes need to be consistent across the UK and this is the best way to provide a simple and effective system.
“A system with the same rules for the whole UK will increase recycling collection rates and reduce litter – as well as minimise disruption to the drinks industry and ensure simplicity for consumers.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater, who is also the circular economy minister, hit out at the UK Government’s stance, branding the move a “utter disregard for devolution”.
She said: “Scottish ministers received the UK Government’s decision letter at 10pm on a Friday night, more than 12 hours after its contents being briefed to press. This is treating the Scottish Parliament with contempt.
“Despite discussions over the last two years this is an eleventh hour attempt by the UK Government to sabotage Scotland’s deposit return scheme by forcing us to remove glass bottles.
“This is at odds with all the evidence that says the biggest benefits, economically, financially and environmentally, are from including glass.”
Slater added: “We are now going to have to look very seriously at where this leaves the viability of the Scottish scheme and talk to businesses, delivery partners and other organisations over the coming days and weeks.”
The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) said the “only viable option now” was for a UK-wide initiative to be launched across all four nations in 2025.
Gavin Partington, of the BSDA, said its members had “long supported the introduction of an industry-led, interoperable DRS run on a not-for-profit basis to help support a circular economy, reducing litter and increasing recycling”.
He stated: “Our members have made significant investments of money, resource and time since 2019 to prepare for the launch of DRS Scotland.
“However, given the level of political uncertainty currently surrounding DRS Scotland, surely the only viable option now is for all stakeholders to commit to launching DRS across the UK on the same timeframe, October 2025.”