drs deposit return scheme plastic bottle recycling

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The UK’s first deposit return scheme has been shelved, after industry leaders told Scottish ministers it would be disastrous to push ahead amid opposition from Westminster.

The Scottish government met with representatives from industry earlier today in talks which put the final nail in the coffin of the proposed launch in March next year.

It will now be put back until at least October 2025, leaving massive doubts over the industry-run body set up to run the scheme and the threat of huge compensation claims from companies that have spent millions preparing for the launch.

Circularity minister Lorna Slater this afternoon told the Scottish parliament the scheme had effectively been “sabotaged” by Westminster.

Slater said the Scottish government had acted in “good faith” to bringing in an “all in” DRS system, which had originally also been backed by the UK, but said last minute restrictions imposed by the UK under internal market rules, including not allowing the scheme to include glass, were impossible to accept.

“The environmental and economic case for including glass is clear,” she said, adding that glass accounted for more than than a quarter of all containers planned to be included in the scheme.

But Slater said businesses had left her in no doubt it would not be practical to proceed as planned next year.

“We welcome the decision to delay DRS Scotland to align with DRS across the rest of the UK in October 2025,” said BSDA director general Gavin Partington. 

“We now urge the UK government to publish a blueprint for how it intends to achieve an October 2025 start date, particularly regarding how it intends to fulfil the conditions set out in its letter to the Scottish government.”

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, deputy head of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said the delay was a chance for the industry to learn lessons from the “sorry saga”.

“Scotland’s retailers have very significantly invested in good faith to deliver a deposit return scheme,” he said.

“That includes years of engagement with government, development of systems and store refits, and a financial commitment which already runs into the tens of millions.

“Today’s announcement has serious implications for that investment, which has been committed at a time where retailers have devoted every other effort to grappling with the cost-of-living crisis.

“Retailers will need to take time to fully understand the implications of today’s decisions and consider what the most appropriate next steps are. In the short term, retailers are likely to pause any further investment until we have a clear operational plan and a final credible critical path to delivering the scheme.”

The decision to scrap the 2024 launch poses huge question marks over the future of Circularity Scotland, the scheme administrator set up in 2021 to run the scheme north of the border, which is backed by shareholders from across the retail and drinks industry.

It said the scheme had become “mired in politics”.

CSL said as well as doubt over what would happen to the £300m invested in Scotland’s scheme, more than 650 jobs were at risk.