Lorna Slater: Scottish deposit return scheme ‘cannot go ahead as planned’

Since Westminster has ruled glass out of the Scottish deposit return scheme (DRS), Scotland’s Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity Lorna Slater has told MSPs that the scheme ‘cannot go ahead as planned’. 

Glass beer bottles deposit return schemeScottish First Minister Humza Yousaf gave the UK Government until Monday (5 June) to reconsider the conditions for the exclusion to the Internal Market Act.

On 27 May, Westminster granted a temporary exclusion to the UK Internal Market Act which allows the Scottish deposit return scheme (DRS) to run without unfairly affecting Scottish producers. The temporary exclusion was granted with the condition that glass is to be excluded from the scheme.

The formal request for an exemption under the UK Internal Market Act was sent by the Scottish Government to the UK Government on 6 March 2023.

Scotland is due to launch its DRS on 1 March 2024, having delayed it from August 2023 earlier this year. Schemes for England, Wales and Northern Ireland are set for 1 October 2025.

‘Not just trying to scupper DRS’

Following the exclusion being granted, Yousaf told the BBC: “They’re not just trying to scupper the DRS – they're trying to undermine devolution. We've seen it multiple times.”

Slater has called for the Government to set out conditions for the scheme and is said to be ‘urgently establishing to what extent there is a way forward for a modified scheme’.

The Scottish Government, private scheme administrator Circularity Scotland and other industry stakeholders have invested heavily in a scheme that would involve glass. Michael Topham, Chief Executive of Biffa, has said that, as the logistics partner for the scheme, it has already invested £65 million under the assumption that glass will be included.

He added: “Whilst the position of the UK Government is no doubt unwelcome for all those committed to delivering the scheme for Scotland in the form originally intended, I strongly believe that the best course of action at this stage is to proceed without further delay.

“Any decision to cancel or significantly delay the scheme beyond March 2024 sends a seismic and detrimental signal to all those businesses that are in principle willing to commit resources into helping the Scottish Government deliver on its ambitions, completely undermining its position as a legislator that can be relied upon.”

Glass has been a contentious issue for some time, with Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, commenting in January: “Our Committee took evidence on plans for the DRS in 2021. The experts we heard from then were in favour of an ‘all-in’ model that would provide the greatest reduction in litter, ensure the collection of high-quality material for recycling and avoid market distortion.

“We heard conflicting views on whether the system should include glass, amid safety and storage concerns, but concluded on balance glass should be included: it has been successfully introduced in schemes in other countries. It is therefore a missed opportunity that glass will not be in England’s DRS at launch, [when] both Scotland and Wales’ DRS will include glass.”

Criticisms of the exclusion of glass also came from the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), Sian Sutherland (Co-Founder of A Plastic Planet), and wildlife campaigner Dominic Dyer – who said Defra, who will manage the scheme in England, was set to ‘disincentivise consumer recycling’ of excluded items.

Glass was omitted from the English DRS after a consultation raised concerns that mixing different glasses would lead to poorer quality glass when recycled, safety concerns for those handling the material, concerns over the weight of the material for transport, and the potential for an increase in handling costs and equipment complexity.

Pressure for a nationwide deposit return scheme

Several stakeholders are also calling for all four DRS to be implemented at the same time.

In April, Conservative MP Alister Jack, Secretary of State for Scotland, called for the scheme to be reconsidered until a system ‘that works for the whole UK’ could be designed.

Environment secretary Thérèse Coffey has also said that she believes one, UK-wide scheme is the ‘best outcome’.

Dunne added: “An all-in deposit return scheme across all four nations of the UK is the only way we will radically reduce our dependence on natural resources.

“We cannot continue to ignore the UK’s chronically low levels of glass recycling. We need urgent systems changes that do not create perverse incentives in the market and leave our environment open to perpetual degradation.”

A decision is likely to come soon on whether Scotland will continue with the planned implementation date of March 2024 – more than a year before the rest of the UK.

Related Articles