Further delay to deposit return 'would be frankly unbearable'

Ministers are being urged to resist pressure from the drinks industry to either weaken the scheme, or push back the start date.

Further delay to deposit return ‘would be frankly unbearable’, Scots campaigners say iStock

Environmental campaigners have warned the Scottish Government that any further delay to implementing its deposit return scheme (DRS) would be “frankly unbearable”.

Ministers are being urged to resist pressure from the drinks industry to either weaken the scheme, or to push back the August 16 start date.

Deposit return was due to be introduced in Scotland on April 1, 2021 but was postponed because of the coronavirus crisis – with campaigners estimating that in the 867 days between the two dates, more than 2.1bn empty drinks containers will either have been dumped as litter, sent to landfill or incinerated.

That means Scotland has accrued more than 380,000 tonnes of avoidable carbon emissions over that period, they claimed.

Councils, meanwhile, are estimated to have spent £18.2m on higher levels of street cleaning, spending cash on picking up litter and emptying bins that could have gone on other public services.

Kat Jones, director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS), which has spearheaded calls for a DRS scheme to be brought in, said the scheme would help cut litter, reduce carbon emissions and cut costs for local government.

She insisted: “We are in the middle of a climate crisis, with litter plaguing our towns and countryside. The price of any further delay or weakening of the system would be frankly unbearable.”

Her comments come after hundreds of leading figures from businesses in the food, drink and hospitality sector sent an open letter to Scottish Government circular economy minister Lorna Slater, calling for DRS to be paused so that it can be revised.

More recently, a cross-party group of MSPs – including the SNP’s Fergus Ewing and Christine Grahame – wrote to outgoing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to warn that bringing in the scheme as planned in August would be “reckless”, while the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland also called for a “pause” so the Government can think about how DRS works “for local traders”.

Under the current proposals, shoppers will pay a 20p deposit when buying a drink in cans or bottles, with the money refunded to them when they take the empty containers back for recycling.

Dr Jones said the APRS had been campaigning for DRS for years, and that with the scheme about to come in it was “now up to industry to deliver”.

She stated: “The implementation is in their hands now, and big business needs to make sure it runs fairly for the smaller players.

“For too long, the costs of single-use cans and bottles have been met by local taxpayers, communities and our environment. It is high time that industry took responsibility for the waste they create, just as they do around the world.”

David Spence of the Fife Street Champions, who helps coordinate litter picking volunteers from a Facebook group of more than 3,000 members, said: “It’s not until you get involved in litter picking, either professionally or as a volunteer, that you really understand the size of the problem.”

He added: “The deposit return scheme will undoubtedly help to reduce the amount of drinks containers that are thrown indiscriminately on the ground, a large proportion of which are thrown from moving vehicles.

“This scheme cannot come soon enough.”

Meanwhile climate activist and campaigner Laura Young said: “Walking around Scotland, you only have to look around at your feet to see that we are indeed in a litter emergency.

“We must embrace change and strive for sustainable innovation in the form of a deposit return scheme.

“Although the proposed scheme from the Scottish Government needs to keep adapting to the needs of local communities and small businesses, this scheme will bring a vital solution for both litter, and ongoing poor recycling rates.

“Scotland can achieve recycling rates of over 90%, and we can incentivise a generation to look after our environment and shift us towards a circular economy, and it starts with taking a step in the direction of a successful deposit return scheme, and embracing change and continually looking for ways to improve for everybody.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is taking dedicated action to increase recycling rates and reduce waste in our economy.

“The £70m recycling improvement fund is delivering one of the biggest investments in recycling in Scotland in a generation, which will make it easier for households to recycle and increase local recycling rates.

“By introducing the UK’s first deposit return scheme for drinks containers, Scotland will recycle billions of bottles and cans every single year. The forthcoming Circular Economy Bill will establish the legislative framework to support the country’s transition to a zero waste and circular economy.

“Together, these actions will boost recycling and make an important contribution to the fight against the climate crisis.”

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