Scottish deposit return scheme delayed: A complete timeline

The launch of Scotland’s deposit return scheme (DRS) has been delayed until at least October 2025. Resource unpacks the timeline of events that led to the delay. 

Plastic bottles deposit return schemeAfter months of confusion and controversy, Lorna Slater in Scottish Parliament confirmed in Scottish Parliament on 7 June that Scotland's flagship deposit return scheme – originally slated for a launch date in August 2023 – would now be formally delayed until October 2025.

The new date will bring the Scottish initiative in line with the launch of a UK-wide scheme. While some will be celebrating the alignment that the delay will offer, others – such as Lorna Slater herself – have criticised the UK Government for 'scuppering' a scheme being pioneered by a devolved government. Industry stakeholders, such as the soft drinks industry, who have invested heavily in preparations ahead of the launch are raising concerns around compensation. 

On 27 May, the UK Government granted a temporary exclusion to the Internal Market Act but did not include glass in the exclusion. The decision meant that the Scottish DRS could not ‘go ahead as planned’ according to Scotland’s Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lorna Slater. 

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

On Twitter, Yousaf commented: “Today's decision to delay Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme to align with a UK scheme is a direct result of the UK Govt's deliberate efforts to undermine devolution. Be in no doubt, [the UK Government] has sought to deliberately sabotage DRS to override the will of the Scottish Parliament.

“Earlier today I met with over 80 producers, retailers [and] hospitality representatives, with the overwhelming view being expressed that due to [UK Government] interference, a Scottish scheme going ahead without glass would put some businesses at an unacceptable competitive disadvantage.

“Today is yet another dark day for devolution, where once again our [Scottish Parliament] has been undermined by the actions of a Tory Westminster Government. Further evidence that the only way we can protect Scotland's democracy and have true self-government is through independence.”

Resource has prepared a full timeline of events around the Scottish DRS.

What will happen next around the Scottish deposit return scheme?

There are still questions around whether the Scottish DRS will be allowed to include glass come October 2025, when the temporary exclusion expires. The Welsh DRS is currently also set to include glass.

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

It remains to be seen whether there will be any repayments for stakeholders since the DRS has been delayed.

Sky News reported on 8 June that Coca-Cola, Redbull and other companies are looking to claim millions in compensation due to the delay. Innis and Gun, one of the UK's biggest craft beer businesses, also told Sky News that it is ‘carefully considering’ whether to sue.

Yousaf previously suggested that the UK government should be financially responsible if the scheme was delayed, although this was rejected by Conservative MP and Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack.

The timeline of the Scottish deposit return scheme so far

  • 8 June 2023: Coca-Cola, Redbull and more suggest they are looking to claim back compensation for investment put into the scheme.
  • 7 June 2023: The Scottish DRS is delayed until October 2025, to start in line with the schemes across the rest of the UK.
  • 6 June 2023: Lorna Slater tells MSPs that the scheme ‘cannot go ahead as planned’.
  • 5 June 2023: Humza Yousaf gives the UK Government until 5 June to reconsider the decision to omit glass from the exclusion. The Government does not alter its decision to exclude glass.
  • 27 May 2023: The UK Government grants a temporary exclusion to the Internal Market Act but does not include glass in the exclusion.
  • 18 April 2023: Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf announced that the scheme will be delayed until March 2024 pending a decision from Westminster on the Internal Market Act.
  • 30 March 2023: After Yousaf is confirmed as Scotland's new first minister, environment secretary Thérèse Coffey says that the government will wait for him to decide if he ‘wants to continue’ with the DRS in its current form. She also states that she believes one, UK-wide scheme is the ‘best outcome’.
  • 7 March 2023: Slater confirms that while 95 per cent of the packaging is accounted for, only a third of producers are registered for the DRS. Many small businesses are yet to register.
  • 6 March 2023: The formal request for an exemption under the UK Internal Market Act has been sent by the Scottish Government to the UK Government.
  • 2 March 2023: Slater confirms that Sturgeon has written to Rishi Sunak this week, reiterating the UK Government must exclude the deposit return scheme regulations from the Internal Market Act.
  • 1 March 2023: Glasgow has announced plans to pause the collection of glass in kerbside recycling schemes, citing a £50m funding gap for the next financial year. A council report stated that the DRS is expected to have a ‘fundamental impact’ on the volume of glass collected at the kerbside.
  • 1 March 2023 (continued): Circularity Scotland has said that DRS is ‘on course’, with the producers responsible for 95 per cent of the packaging accounted for in the scheme now registered. Lorna Slater accuses the Secretary of State for Scotland of ‘sabotage’.
  • 28 February 2023: Registration for the DRS in Scotland closes today (28 February). All three candidates for SNP leader have now indicated that they are in favour of pausing the scheme.
  • 27 February 2023: In the House of Lords, the Rt Hon Lord Benyon, Minister of State at Defra, continued the criticism of Scotland’s DRS and joins the Scottish Secretary of State in calling for a UK-wide system. He highlights that the UK Government is yet to receive an official request for the internal market exemption needed to allow the scheme to run legally. The exemption is required to ensure that DRS applies to containers bottled outside of Scotland as, currently, the Internal Market Act would prohibit this – putting Scottish producers at risk. The deadline for the official request is still to be confirmed.
  • 27 February 2023 (continued): Kate Forbes, one of the current hopefuls for Sturgeon’s role, visits Cairngorm Brewery and calls the scheme ‘an example of a good idea badly executed’.
  • 22 February 2023: Circularity Scotland – the private scheme administrator established ​​by the industry to meet DRS obligations – pledges £22 million in support for businesses concerned that their cash flow will be affected by DRS.
  • 15 February 2023: Nicola Sturgeon resigns as Scottish first minister, triggering an SNP leadership race and throwing DRS further into question. She confirms she will remain in the position until her successor is selected.
  • 12 February 2023: Despite Slater and Sturgeon both confirming that DRS is going ahead, the calls for a delay continue. Conservative MP Alister Jack, Secretary of State for Scotland, writes to the Scottish Mail on Sunday, calling for the scheme to be reconsidered until a system ‘that works for the whole UK’ could be designed.
  • 9 February 2023: Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Fergus Ewing, Inverness and Nairn MSP, calls on Nicola Sturgeon to delay the implementation of DRS. He labels the scheme ‘a disaster’, and pushes for it to be stopped ‘before it becomes a catastrophe’ which damages ‘Scotland’s reputation as a place to do business’. Sturgeon rejects the call for delays, but commits to considering ‘any changes that can sensibly be made’.
  • 9 February 2023 (continued): Slater responds to the drinks industry’s open letter. She comments: “We want businesses to be ready for the scheme going live on 16 August. However, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has agreed that, where there are clearly evidenced operational challenges, they will take a proportionate approach to compliance.”
  • 3 February 2023: The drinks industry pens an open letter to Scottish circular economy minister, Lorna Slater, highlighting the ‘continued lack of clarity on how the scheme will work and the action that small producers need to take to prepare’.
  • January 2023: The UK releases details for the DRS intended for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The plan is criticised by the industry, partly on account of the incompatibility with Scotland’s DRS. Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, the Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, comments that the differences between the schemes are ‘a missed opportunity’.
  • July 2022: Biffa secures a 10-year contract to provide logistics, sorting and counting services for the Scottish DRS.
  • May 2019: The details of the Scottish DRS are announced.

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