DRS deposit return scheme plastic bottle

Source: Getty Images

During his leadership campaign, Scottish first minister Humza Yousaf indicated he would push ahead with a 16 August start date for DRS

The launch of the UK’s first deposit return scheme (DRS) has been delayed again and will now not launch until at least 1 March 2024.

The decision was announced by Scotland’s new first minister Humza Yousaf today as he set out his priorities for government, putting an end to weeks of speculation over the future of the troubled scheme.

Yousaf told the Scottish parliament the move would give businesses extra time to prepare for the introduction of DRS, which has been the focus of a huge row between different sectors of the industry, as well as politicians north and south of the border.

During his leadership campaign, Yousaf had indicated he would push ahead with the 16 August start date for the scheme, which had already been delayed twice due to the pandemic. He planned to give a year’s grace to smaller producers.

However, the idea to allow thousands of companies to avoid the new 20p deposits on plastic and glass bottles covered by the scheme was branded unworkable by supporters and critics of the scheme alike. Sources told The Grocer this had left Yousaf with little option but to delay the scheme again.

It comes despite a warning from large soft drinks producers that the Scottish government was risking more than £100m spent by companies preparing for the launch going down the drain.

With plans for DRS in the rest of the UK already delayed until at least October 2025, the latest setback has raised more doubts over whether DRS will go ahead at all.

House of Parliament

Source: Getty Images

The UK government has not yet decided whether to exclude DRS from the Internal Market Act

The UK government has been threatening to block Scotland’s launch under rules governing the internal market, claiming it could worsen inflation.

Yousaf told MSPs: “I remain committed to this scheme as a way to increase recycling, reduce litter and help achieve our net zero ambitions.

“But we recognise the uncertainty that continues to be created as a result of the UK government delaying the decision to exclude the scheme from the Internal Market Act.

“We had hoped for that decision this week, but it has not come. At the same time, I and the Circular Economy minister have heard the concerns of business, particularly about the scheme’s readiness for launch this August.

“As a result, we will now delay the launch of the scheme to 1 March 2024. This provides 10 months for businesses to get ready.

“We will use that additional time to work with businesses, and Circularity Scotland, to address concerns with the scheme and ensure a successful launch next year.

“We have also developed a package of measures to simplify and de-risk the scheme, and to support small businesses and hospitality in particular.”

Major drinks producers who had urged Nicola Sturgeon’s successor to make the scheme a top priority expressed dismay at today’s decision.

’We will be looking to the Scottish government to protect the considerable industry investment to date’

“We are disappointed by the Scottish government’s decision to delay further,” said BSDA director general Gavin Partington. “Our members have committed to the introduction of deposit return schemes and have spent several years and millions of pounds on its planned launch in Scotland.

“We’ve also worked closely with the scheme administrator to ensure we can meet the unique implementation challenges set out in legislation in time for the go-live date of 16 August 2023.

“Further delay now leaves the Scottish scheme in a precarious position and we will be looking to the Scottish government to protect the considerable industry investment to date.”

However, the decision was welcomed by supermarket bosses, who earlier this month launched an unprecedented attack on the scheme, despite supermarket reverse vending machines being expected to be a central part of the system.

Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Waitrose spoke out about the scheme, following earlier criticism by Tesco and Asda.

“Retailers will warmly welcome the commitment made by the new first minister that his administration will look to refresh the relationship with the business community and look afresh at the onerous business rates burden,” said David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium.

“The last three years of pandemic and costs crunch have taken a heavy toll on Scotland’s businesses. There is a clear need to make the economy the priority of priorities and deliver a pragmatic approach to tax, business rates and regulation.”

Beer bottle

Source: Getty Images

Brewers had raised concerns over the scheme

Scottish brewers and the wine industry had been at the heart of opposition to the rollout plans.

Jamie Delap, SIBA Scotland director, said: “Today’s announcement by the first minster that the Scottish deposit return scheme will be delayed until March next year gives small breweries time to at least catch their breath and begin to prepare for its introduction. 

“While we fully support the principle of DRS, we have highlighted for many months the extreme complexity of the scheme in Scotland, which many small producers do not have the resources or finances to prepare for. Many small breweries have been anxious about the impact it will have on their businesses as they face the cost of living crisis, energy price increases and the lingering effects of the pandemic.”

A spokesman for Circularity Scotland said: “While we were fully prepared for and focused on delivering the scheme from 16 August 2023, the scheme launch date is a policy matter for the Scottish government.

“We will continue to support businesses of all sizes across Scotland in getting ready for the scheme’s launch on 1 March, 2024.

“This new launch date now gives those businesses almost 10 months to prepare and those businesses who have yet to register now have until 12 January, 2024, to do so.

“The Scottish government’s announcement puts an end to speculation about the timescales for the launch of the scheme and we urge all producers and retailers who have yet to register for the scheme to contact us so we can support them through the registration process.

“It remains the case that the deposit return scheme is a vital element in Scotland’s path to net zero and will prevent billions of bottles and cans every year from ending up as waste and polluting our landscape. We remain fully committed to delivering a scheme that works for Scotland and will be working closely with all stakeholders to ensure its success.”