MSPs warned of 'catastrophic impact' of bottle deposit return scheme

Over 500 food and drink industry leaders have signed an open letter to Lorna Slater, MSP calling for the scheme to be paused.

Scottish drink firms may stop selling their products at home as a result of an upcoming deposit return scheme.

Hundreds of companies across the food, drink and hospitality sectors have called upon the Scottish Government to pause the introduction of the scheme.

A total of 508 industry leaders had put their name to an open letter address to Scottish Greens co-convenor Lorna Slater, by 5pm on Tuesday.

Slater, the minister in the Scottish Government responsible for the proposed new scheme, has been called upon to delay the initiative.

The letter to circular economy minister Slater warns of the “impending catastrophic impact the scheme will impose on both businesses and consumers”, as it called for deposit return to be “paused, revised and rewritten”.

Those signing the letter include representatives from the Scottish Hospitality Group, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, and the Scottish B&B Association, as well as drinks makers and senior figures from Punch Pubs & Co, the Crieff Hydro and Virgin Wines.

Blair Bowman, a self-employed whisky consultant and broker behind the letter, said the number of signatories shows the scale of opposition to the Scottish Government scheme – which is due to be introduced on August 16, 2023.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Bowman said charges linked to the introduction of the scheme could see some smaller scale drink producers opt to stop selling in Scotland.

Mr Bowman said: “There will be lots of producers I think that choose overnight not to sell their products in Scotland any more because of the amount of extra paperwork involved.

“I’ve already had phone calls with producers here who are heartbroken that they are actually considering stopping selling their products in Scotland, their home market, because of this system.”

The letter has been signed by representatives from distillers including the Kingsbarns Distillery, Linlithgow Distillery, Orkney Distilling Ltd, Dunnet Bay Distillers Ltd, the Dornoch Distillery, the North Uist Distillery, Kilchoman Distillery on Islay, and the Summerhall Distillery Ltd.

Senior figures from beermakers at the Kelburn Brewery, Innis and Gunn, Arran Brewery, Cromarty Brewing Co, Williams Bros Brewing Co and the Highland Brewing Company Ltd have also put their names to it.

Mr Bowman said costs involved in the scheme could see the additional charge paid by consumers amount to about 30p per drink in a bottle or can – not just the 20p deposit.

He said: “Most of the producers think there is going to be 30p or more on to the actual cost because there’s going to be extra labelling involved, there’s going to be extra distribution involved, all these extra things are going to be added to selling in Scotland, and those costs have to be put on to someone, which will be the customer.”

With some firms based elsewhere in the UK who sell in Scotland also having signed the letter, Mr Bowman continued: “I’ve had so many conversations with businesses over the last weekend who are really worried that this could be the final straw for a lot of companies, that they just can’t survive this.

“They’ve been hit with Covid, and Brexit and energy costs. This is something they don’t ned right now.

“That is why we are calling for a delay to launch, so it can be fully revised to work with the industry.

“The Government keep regurgitating this is made for the industry, by the industry. But that is just not the case. There wouldn’t be people signing this thing if they didn’t think there was problems with it.

“Everybody wants to recycle, it’s not as if anybody who has signed this is against doing better. We’re going to have to make difficult lifestyle changes because of the way the world is going and Cop27 is on this week and we are going to have to make adjustments.

“But this will make things worse. So much of it just doesn’t make sense.”

John Mayhew, director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, which is running the Have You Got The Bottle? campaign promoting a deposit return scheme, said while Scotland’s proposed system is “long overdue” the fees for producers are a “grave disappointment”.

Scottish ministers must insist these are “substantially reduced”, Mr Mayhew said, otherwise “the costs for those selling drinks in cans would be almost 300 times higher than the equivalent in Slovakia, where deposits were introduced earlier this year”.

He added: “We have said all along that the system must be made to work for small drinks producers and retailers as well as large ones.

“Setting fees so far above what is charged across Europe would be a hammer blow to the small producers who already face rising costs, and the big drinks companies and supermarkets behind the system operator must know it would be unacceptable to run it on this basis.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “Scotland’s deposit return scheme will recycle billions of bottles and cans a year and forms a vital part of our plans to create a circular economy. It will cut climate emissions, tackle littering, and directly address public concerns about the impact of plastic and other waste on our environment.

“The deposit return scheme is an example of producer responsibility and, rightly, places the cost burden on producers to deal with the bottles and cans they place on the market at end-of-life. Similar schemes have already proven successful in many European countries and we are confident that ours will deliver similar results.

“In line with the polluter pays principle, and just like similar schemes around the world, Scotland’s deposit return scheme is being delivered by industry. The scheme administrator, Circularity Scotland, is an industry-led body, representing drinks producers, retailers and trade bodies.

“They are responsible for operating the scheme and for setting producer fees. The Scottish Government is engaging with Circularity Scotland and industry representatives to understand and work through any concerns that emerge as the scheme is implemented.

“Last week, for example, we issued new guidance on the return point exemptions process following engagement and feedback from business, which will make the scheme more efficient. We will continue to work in this way with industry as we move towards the go live date in August 2023.”

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