Scottish deposit return scheme delayed until October 2025

Scotland has delayed the start of its deposit return scheme until October 2025 to start in line with the schemes in the rest of the UK.

Glass in deposit return schemeOn Saturday Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf gave the UK Government until Monday (5 June) to reconsider the conditions for the exclusion to the Internal Market Act but the decision to exclude glass remained in place.

Scotland’s Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity Lorna Slater told MSPs yesterday (6 June) that the deposit return scheme (DRS) ‘cannot go ahead as planned’.

Scotland was due to launch its DRS on 1 March 2024, having delayed it from August 2023 earlier this year.

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.”

On 27 May, Westminster granted a temporary exclusion to the UK Internal Market Act which allowed the Scottish DRS to run without unfairly affecting Scottish producers. The temporary exclusion was granted with the condition that glass is to be omitted 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.

Lee Marshall, Policy & External Affairs Director at CIWM, commented: “CIWM appreciates that there are benefits to having more consistency across the UK when it comes to a DRS. In this respect, the announcement of a delay to the Scottish scheme to achieve greater alignment with the rest of the UK may bring some benefits.

"We appreciate, however, that plans in Scotland were well advanced and there has been a lot of investment in infrastructure and mobilisation which will be impacted by this development, and so it is not an ideal situation for the implementation of such a fundamental policy change within our sector. We also recognise that waste policy is a devolved matter and therefore may vary between nations.” 

City to Sea’s Policy Manager, Steve Hynd, added: “Because of this delay, we will see tens of millions of plastic bottles wasted over the coming years – bottles that could and should be collected back in through a deposit return scheme and ideally reused or if not, recycled.

“Next time you see a plastic bottle caught in the edges of a river remember that this problem could have been effectively solved through implementing an ambitious and timely deposit return scheme.”

‘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 also 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. 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.

He added: “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.”

It is unclear what the effects on investors and stakeholders will be now that the scheme has been delayed.

The exclusion of glass from the deposit return scheme

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.

After the most recent delay, Steve Hynd added: “Every single Conservative MP was elected on a manifesto that promised to deliver a deposit return scheme that included all materials including glass bottles. This idea was then strongly supported both in the Scottish and Westminster consultations.

“For that same party of government to drop glass from the English deposit return scheme was disappointing. For them to force Scotland to drop glass from their scheme was frankly deplorable. Now forcing this delay in implementation on Scotland shows an utter disregard for the urgency of the environmental crisis we face. Now is the time to be speeding up and stretching the ambition of environmental legislation and instead, we have a government doing the exact opposite.”

It remains to be seen whether Scotland will continue to push for the inclusion of glass, although it seems likely – as the Welsh scheme includes glass – that the inclusion will continue to be sought after.

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 scheme

There have been ongoing calls from several stakeholders for a nationwide implementation date.

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.”

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