Smallest businesses should be exempt from Scottish DRS, says FSB

Concerns over how Scotland’s deposit return scheme (DRS) will affect small businesses were raised at a roundtable of industry experts yesterday (12 November), with the Federation of Small Businesses calling for an exemption for businesses whose premises are under 200 square feet in size.

Susan Love, Policy Manager at the Federation of Small Businesses
Susan Love, Policy Manager at the Federation of Small Businesses

The issue was raised during one of three roundtables with experts and stakeholders hosted by the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee to discuss the plans for a DRS in Scotland.

Scotland’s DRS, set to come into force in April 2021, will see a 20 pence deposit placed on all plastic, glass and metal beverage containers between 50 millimetres and three litres in size, which can then be recouped when the container is returned to the retailer for recycling.

Currently, the Scottish Government’s plans will require all retailers, regardless of size, to accept returned containers – known as ‘return to retail’ – an aspect of the proposed system that was cause for debate during yesterday’s roundtables.

Speaking at the first roundtable, Susan Love, Policy Manager at the Federation of Small Businesses, called for measures to be put in place to provide support: “I think generally most businesses will want to provide this service for their community and their customers. It’s just that for some that will find it difficult there needs to be some support.

Love suggested that businesses under 200 square feet should be exempt from the DRS due to space and staffing restrictions. Love highlighted that the smallest stores would struggle to find space for the returned containers that they would be obliged to accept. She said: “A very large number of very small businesses are going to have practical difficulties with this system, as the vast majority of businesses would be doing manual takeback, without a reverse vending machine. We therefore believe that there should be an exception for the very smallest businesses that will genuinely struggle.

“In terms of the very smallest businesses, we have suggested a floor space definition of 200 square feet.”

Should glass be included?

The inclusion of glass was another bone of contention among the present stakeholders, with concerns abounding regarding the cost, due to its heavy weight and low value, and space required to deal with it.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell from the Scottish Retail Consortium commented: “We think a targeted DRS will absolutely improve recycling rates and tackle litter, but we have consistently been opposed to the inclusion of glass containers. We remain very concerned about the £50 million per year that this will cost retailers to manage.”

Samantha Harding from the Reloop Platform, however, was keen to stress that this £50 million cost will be met by producers rather than retailers, saying: “Glass absolutely has to be part of the system.”

Reiterating Harding’s assertion that the responsibility for a DRS will fall on producers, Jennie Hume from the Have You Got The Bottle campaign reiterated Harding’s assertion, highlighting that current kerbside provision of glass collections across Scotland is inconsistent, saying: “On the topic of glass, there’s currently quite inconsistent kerbside provision across Scotland, with 43 per cent of households without access to kerbside recycling for glass. So a return-to-retail model for glass containers would make it significantly more accessible for people to recycle.”

However, Jonathan Marshall from trade body British Glass – which has previously written to the Scottish Environment Minister calling for glass to be excluded from the DRS – noted that the Norwegian DRS, which has provided inspiration for Scotland’s model, does not include glass containers.

Dr John Lee of the Scottish Grocers Federation also described the inclusion of glass in the DRS as “extremely concerning” for small retailers, due to issues with storage capacity.

Glass is not the only material whose inclusion in a DRS is up for debate, with Rick Hindley, reiterating the claim he made last week that placing a deposit on multi-pack aluminium cans could lead to 823 million more plastic bottles entering the market as people switch from multi-pack aluminium cans to larger plastic bottles.

A UK-wide DRS?

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has confirmed that a DRS for drinks containers will also be introduced in England, subject to the results of a consultation, which concluded in May of this year,

As Scotland forges on ahead, Conservative MSP Rachael Hamilton asked the panel if the Scottish DRS should be paused and rolled out as a UK wide scheme with cooperation from both governments.

In response, Callum Duncan, Scottish Conservation Manager at the Marine Conservation Society said: “Scotland has set a target to be zero carbon five years ahead of the UK.

“We’ve got a small window where we have to make these changes and we don’t want Scotland to have to drag its heels because we’re waiting for a wider system. It’s important that the systems harmonise across the UK but it’s crucial that Scotland gets on and delivers because we have more challenging targets to deliver.”

Panel convenor MSP Gillian Martin proposed that, rather than pausing Scotland’s plans for a DRS, increased pressure should be put on the UK Government to move forward with its own system.

Among other issues discussed were whether online retailers should be obligated under the scheme, whether beverage cartons should be included in a DRS, whether a scheme administrator would be in place before the scheme is slated to start in 2021 and the issue of fraud and “scavenging” of material from kerbside.

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