Scotland’s deposit return scheme delayed for fourth time

Scotland’s deposit return scheme has been delayed until October 2025 (PA)
Scotland’s deposit return scheme has been delayed until October 2025 (PA)

Scotland’s deposit return scheme (DRS) has been delayed for the fourth time, with the minister responsible insisting there is “no option” but to push the start date back to coincide with a similar initiative from the UK Government.

Lorna Slater, the Scottish Government’s circular economy minister, confirmed on Wednesday that the DRS will not now commence until October 2025 “at the earliest”.

Scotland had been set to be the first part of the UK to introduce a DRS, despite having previously pushed the start date back to March 2024.

Environmental campaigners were left dismayed by Ms Slater’s announcement of the latest delay, which comes in the wake of the UK Government’s refusal to allow the Scottish scheme to include glass bottles.

Kat Jones, director of Action to Protect Rural Scotland, which has campaigned for a DRS north of the border, said: “This is a bleak day for anyone who cares about Scotland’s litter crisis, or indeed the global climate crisis.”

She raised doubts about whether the UK Government will be able to introduce a DRS for England by October 2025 – describing that date as being “at best provisional”.

Scottish circular economy minister Lorna Slater said there is ‘no option’ but to further delay the scheme (Jane Barlow/PA) (Jane Barlow/PA)

The DRS was originally due to launch in Scotland in April 2021 but was pushed back to July 2022 because of the Covid crisis, with further delays then seeing the start moved to August this year and then to March 2024.

Dr Jones added: “Effectively, this puts deposit return on hold indefinitely. As a result we will continue to see cans and bottles littered in substantial numbers across Scotland for years to come.”

But the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) welcomed the Scottish Government’s decision, with director-general Gavin Partington saying this will allow the scheme in Scotland to “align with DRS across the rest of the UK in October 2025”.

He added: “BSDA members have long supported the introduction of an industry-led, interoperable DRS run on a not-for-profit basis to help support a circular economy, reducing litter and increasing recycling, and they have made significant investments of money, resource and time over the last few years to help get DRS off the ground.

“We now urge the UK Government to publish a blueprint for how it intends to achieve an October 2025 start date.”

The DRS aims to boost recycling and reduce littering by charging shoppers a deposit on single-use drinks containers – such as cans and bottles – with the money refunded when the empties are returned for reuse.

The UK Government had ruled the Scottish deposit return scheme could not include glass (Andrew Matthews/PA) (Andrew Matthews/PA)

As the Scottish scheme had been due to come in ahead of similar initiatives in the rest of the UK, Holyrood ministers had required an exemption to the Internal Market Act – brought in after Brexit to ensure smooth trading between the four nations.

With England’s planned DRS not including glass, ministers at Westminster said they would only permit the Scottish scheme to go ahead if glass bottles were removed from its remit.

Ms Slater told MSPs on Wednesday that that decision was “contrary to the will of the Scottish Parliament” – which had previously voted for a DRS that included glass as well as plastic and cans.

She accused the UK Government of being “more intent on sabotaging this Parliament than protecting our environment”.

She told MSPs: “As of today, it is now clear that we have been left with no other option than to delay the launch of Scotland’s DRS until October 2025 at the earliest, based on the UK Government’s current stated aspirations.”

While she vowed Scotland will have a DRS, it will begin “later than need be” and “be more limited than it should be”.

She added: “These delays and dilutions lie squarely in the hands of a UK Government that has sadly seemed so far more intent on sabotaging this Parliament than protecting our environment.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: “Deposit return schemes need to be consistent across the whole of the UK to provide a simple and effective system for businesses and consumers.

“We will continue to work with the Scottish Government, and the other devolved administrations, on a UK-wide deposit return solution.

“The UK Government remains unwavering in its commitment to improving the environment, while also upholding the UK’s internal market.”

David Harris, chief executive of Circularity Scotland, the company set up to run the Scottish DRS, said the latest delay is “clearly a disappointing outcome, which will have a significant impact on investment in Scotland”.

He added: “Regrettably, further delaying the introduction of DRS will hinder Scotland’s progress towards net-zero and mean that billions of drinks containers continue to end up as waste.”

Catherine Gemmell, Scotland conservation officer at the Marine Conservation Society, described the delay as a “huge disappointment”.

Kim Pratt, a circular economy campaigner with Friends of the Earth Scotland, added: “It’s shocking that the deposit return scheme has been forced to delay again so close to its planned start date, after many years of preparation and significant financial investment.

“The UK Government’s decision to block Scotland from including glass is shameful, and the delay means even more environmental destruction.”

But the Night Time Industries Association in Scotland welcomed the move, with a spokesperson saying: “Scotland’s DRS scheme as it had been designed was simply unworkable.

“Both the Scottish and UK governments must now take this opportunity to review the fundamental flaws and challenges that would have severely disadvantaged Scotland’s small businesses.”