The October 2025 start date for the rollout of the UK’s deposit return scheme is a “non-starter” the government has been told, with the scheme now almost certain to be delayed by at least another year.
The Grocer understands meetings between representatives of all the UK governments and industry bodies aimed at salvaging the scheme have agreed that the already delayed start date is unachievable.
Last week, supermarket bosses called for the government to go back to the drawing board with its plans for DRS, saying a “fundamental rethink” was needed.
However, it is understood the devolved governments have made progress in talks on a way forward, albeit with changes to the timeframe.
“It’s become clear that October 2025 is a non-starter,” said one leading industry source involved in the talks. “Even 2026 is a very big question mark for the industry.”
Talks have focused on how the industry could back the launch of a scheme administrator for DRS, following the spectacular collapse of Circularity Scotland Limited, after ministers north of the border shelved plans to launch a pioneering DRS in March next year.
The demise of the administrator has posed major questions over funding for a UK rollout.
“We need agreement on a way forward from all parties, including governments and businesses,” said the source. “Unless we have that and a clear 18-month run it’s going to be impossible to get DRS off the ground. The banks wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole for a start.”
Supermarket bosses claim DRS will land the industry with a £1.8bn annual bill for the network of vending machines and other costs in running the system, though that has been disputed by soft drinks bosses.
“Despite the current standoff, DRS is not dead in the water,” added the source. “There is still a desire there from the major companies and that is what is going to have to lead this forward.
“But there is no doubt ministers are going to have to think again about the timescale whatever happens.”
Meanwhile, the ACS also appealed for the government to reconsider the timeframe, with its response to the committee inquiry on waste, resources and recycling reforms highlighting the need for proper lead times and planning to allow the infrastructure for DRS to be put into place.
The Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry is set to question Defra officials on whether the government has effective plans to meet its waste and recycling ambitions.
The ACS has welcomed the delays announced so far, but said any future scheme would also need further concessions including draft regulations laid before parliament with significant lead time to the proposed go-live date, a commitment from government to underwrite finances for setting up a deposit management organisation and a timeline that properly reflected the time needed for industry to prepare.
“We cannot risk rushing out half-baked policies that could end up harming retailers, consumers, the industry and ultimately the environment,” said ACS CEO James Lowman.
“The government is taking the right steps toward ensuring a more sustainable future, but it’s absolutely essential that significant changes and new infrastructure like that which will be needed under a deposit return scheme are given enough time and scrutiny to get the details right.“