Plastic bottles recycling

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The Scottish government has delayed the introduction of its planned deposit return scheme (DRS) until at least October 2025, blaming restrictions imposed by the UK government.

Last week the UK government imposed a number of conditions on the scheme, including the removal of glass and a requirement to align aspects of the scheme with schemes across the other UK nations, none of which exist at the moment or have regulations in place.

Following consultations with businesses involved, Scottish government ministers said certainty on critical elements of the scheme could not be provided to businesses until the UK government published more detail and therefore Scotland’s DRS will not go live until October 2025 at the earliest.

Circular economy minister Lorna Slater told the Scottish Parliament: “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.

“I remain committed to interoperable DRS schemes across the UK provided that we can work in a spirit of collaboration not imposition. I wrote again last night to the UK government, to urge ministers to reset a climate of trust and good faith to galvanise and retain the knowledge that has been built in Circularity Scotland and DRS partners in Scotland.

“This parliament voted for a deposit return scheme. I am committed to a deposit return scheme. Scotland will have a deposit return scheme. It will come later than need be. It will be more limited than it should be. More limited than parliament voted for.

“These delays and dilutions lie squarely in the hands of UK government that has sadly seemed so far more intent on sabotaging this parliament than protecting our environment.”

David Harris, chief executive of Circularity Scotland, the body set up to manage the scheme, said: “This is clearly a disappointing outcome, which will have a significant impact on investment in Scotland. We have made it clear that industry was prepared for the deposit return scheme to go live in March 2024, and that a scheme without glass is both economically viable and is an opportunity for Scotland to provide a platform for a UK-wide DRS. 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.”

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman commented: “It has become increasingly clear that a workable DRS system, interoperable with future schemes in the rest of the UK, cannot be put in place by March 2024. This is disappointing, but it is the right decision to work towards the launch of interoperable schemes across the UK in October 2025.

“It is absolutely essential that the governments of the UK work together to introduce a scheme that works for everyone, is effective at increasing recycling rates, and does not impose unnecessary conditions on the retailers that will be delivering the scheme.”

Mo Razzaq, national deputy vice president of the Federation of Independent Retailers (the Fed), said: “It makes sense for the Scottish government to decide now to launch at the same time as the rest of the UK, because we are far from confident the deeply flawed Scottish scheme will be ready by its most recent launch date of March 2024. Businesses are angry and seriously short-changed because of the continuing confusion.

“We understand the desire to progress plans combating litter and waste of the earth’s resources but with now only one year between launch in Scotland and launch in the rest of the UK, the case is far from compelling.

“We call on the developers of the scheme for Wales, England, Northern Ireland and now Scotland to avoid the mistakes made in Scotland but still progress as quickly as possible to meet the urgent need for less litter and less waste of the earth’s resources.

“As planning has not progressed well in Scotland, we can see the case for dropping the ambitious objective of including glass from the very beginning. Most other countries in Europe have phased in glass sometime after the launch of the core part of their return schemes.

“As it takes much energy to produce glass, we would urge the four nations of the UK to consider a scheme whereby drinks companies refill and reuse bottles multiple times rather than sending them to be crushed after one use.”

He added: “It is essential that retailers in Scotland who have entered into leasing contracts for machines to process returned bottles and cans, are compensated for their losses of around £4,000 a year, in addition to service charges and shop refitting to accommodate the machines.”