Is Scotland On The Verge Of A Deposit Return Scheme? [UPDATED]

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister for Scotland, intends to commit the country to implementing a deposit return scheme (DRS) for plastic drinks bottles, according to reports today (5 September) by Sky News.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham confirmed in July this year that Zero Waste Scotland would investigate design options and the associated costs and benefits of how a DRS could operate in Scotland’s unique environment.

DRS see consumers pay a deposit that is fully refundable once the empty bottle is returned and, it’s believed, can reduce litter and increase recycling.

“It includes major reforms in education, health and justice, new opportunities for our communities and important measures to safeguard the environment and improve the quality of housing”

According to Sky News, Nicola Sturgeon intends to now commit to implementing a DRS.

“Scottish ministers will now look at what DRS will work best, balancing the interests of the environment with the concerns of those opposed to such a scheme,” Sky News states.

Mrs Sturgeon recently announced her “bold plan to shape Scotland”, in which she states it is the most “ambitious” Programme for Government yet. However, there has been no official announcement that a DRS will go ahead.

She said: “This Programme for Government is our plan to shape the kind of Scotland we all seek – an inclusive, fair, prosperous, innovative country, ready and willing to embrace the future.

“It includes major reforms in education, health and justice, new opportunities for our communities and important measures to safeguard the environment and improve the quality of housing.”

“Progressive Leadership”

David Palmer-Jones, CEO of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK commented on the news, saying it shows “progressive leadership” in reducing waste and litter.
“SUEZ backs UK wide bottle return schemes – it makes not just environmental sense but, importantly, economic sense too – putting pounds in the pockets of both households and business through reduced waste disposal costs and reduced need to buy virgin raw materials.

“This really is a win-win solution for the environment, manufacturers and ordinary households who are ready to help bring about change.

“Plastics need to be re-used, not littering our streets, parks, riverbanks and coast lines.

“This really is a win-win solution for the environment, manufacturers and ordinary households who are ready to help bring about change. Plastics need to be re-used, not littering our streets, parks, riverbanks and coast lines.”

“While SUEZ supports deposit return schemes for plastic bottles, we believe fundamental progress in making the change towards a more circular economy can only happen if these schemes are part of a more strategically planned, integrated application of an extended producer responsibility (EPR) regime across all forms of of resource usage, materials and packaging production and their collection, reuse and recycling across the supply chain.

“That level of strategic vision requires Government leadership. Businesses are showing willingness and the public is ready.

“A bottle deposit scheme, starting with plastic containers, is a practical first step towards more circular industrial practices and is just one of the forms of Government intervention our sector has been calling for, within a wider package of measures, to ensure that the UK’s emerging industrial strategy is a sustainable one.

“The country has already made huge leaps in the past decade, shifting from a throw-away society to culture of re-use and recycling, but we can’t waste an opportunity to make further improvements.

“A bottle deposit scheme would help consumers and producers make the step-change required to reinvigorate the country’s stalling recycling performance and help us to unlock the value in packaging as a commodity, which can be put back into the supply chain rather than throwing it away.

“Following the implementation of the single use plastic bag charge, reports from seven major UK retailers show that they issued 83% fewer bags in 2016/17 compared to the calendar year 2014, according to Defra. This is evidence of the potential of such initiatives to positively change both consumer and, consequently, producer behaviour.”

The DRS Story So Far

The Scottish Government announced research into the feasibility of a deposit return scheme in August last year, specifically with regards to “on-the-go” drinks packaging.

An opinion poll conducted by the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland revealed that 78% of Scots are in favour of a drinks deposit scheme, however, The Packaging Recycling Group Scotland has publically opposed the scheme, recommending alternative proposals to promote recycling.

In June last year, Scottish officials met with the UK Government to discuss the potential for a deposit return scheme for drinks bottles and cans across the UK and Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister also announced he was considering the introduction of a money back on bottles scheme to help boost recycling.

In January Scotland’s then Environment Secretary, Richard Lochhead, announced he had commissioned further research into deposit return schemes.

Zero Waste Scotland led a consultation on the subject and received 63 responses from stakeholders including from ASDA, Coca Cola, Sainsbury’s and Britvic.

Coca Cola responded, saying: “We agree with Keep Scotland Beautiful who say: “The scale of the investment that would be required to roll out a DRS, and the lack of evidence that it would deliver any significant reduction in litter, means a DRS is not the right solution to the litter problem in Scotland at this time.”

Coca Cola, however, revised its opinion, saying it would support a DRS for Scotland, with a spokesperson saying, “it’s already clear from our conversations with experts that the time is right to trial new interventions such as a well-designed deposit scheme for drinks containers, starting in Scotland where conversations are underway.”

More recently, a study by the Green Alliance found a DRS for beverage containers would stop a third of the plastic going into the oceans, but according to the Scottish Grocers Federation and Association of Convenience Stores, a DRS would be too “burdensome” for customers and small shops.

Environment Secretary for the UK Government, Michael Gove, said in a recent announcement that an expert group has begun work to explore ways to reduce the use of commonly littered items in the UK such as drink bottles, as well as considering the advantages and disadvantages of different types of deposit and reward and return schemes.

Scotland Roll-Out

[UPDATE 6 September]

The Scottish Government has confirmed it is developing a deposit return scheme for drinks containers for roll-out across Scotland.

It said the scheme will be designed to increase recycling rates and reduce littering and that it will be implemented it across Scotland.

“This represents a step change in our level of ambition and over the next year we will build on detailed work already being carried out by Zero Waste Scotland, ahead of roll-out across Scotland,” the recently published Programme for Government states.

“We will ensure the scheme is tailored to meet Scotland’s specific needs and we will work closely with the business community during its design and implementation”

“We will ensure the scheme is tailored to meet Scotland’s specific needs and we will work closely with the business community during its design and implementation.

Details of what this scheme might look like have yet to be revealed, but the document says smaller retailers have “specific difficulties” that would need to be overcome – and these will be “addressed as part of this process”.

“We will also go further in our efforts to end the ‘throw-away’ culture, by examining how to reduce demand for single-use items, such as disposable coffee cups,” the document says.

“We will appoint an expert panel to advise on the use of charges, similar to the successful plastic bag charge, with the goal of encouraging long-term and sustainable changes in consumer behaviour.

“In the coming weeks, we will also set out our considered view and seek parliamentary approval on Scotland’s approach to unconventional oil and gas extraction.”


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